PARIS — The star of a French feel-good comedy about a quadriplegic aristocrat and his home-help from the melting-pot suburbs of Paris, Friday became the first black actor to scoop France’s top film award, a Cesar.
Omar Sy, named best actor for his role as a wisecracking male nurse in the box office hit “Intouchables” (Untouchables), becomes the first black actor to scoop a Cesar since the French answer to the Oscars was created in 1976.
By comparison five African-American actors and one actress have picked up an Academy Award, starting with Sidney Poitier in 1963. Twenty five have been nominated including Viola Davis, running for best actress Sunday for “The Help”.
Based on a true story, “Intouchables” stars Francois Cluzet as a wealthy quadriplegic whose life is turned upside down when he hires a young black man, played by Sy, just out of prison to take care of him.
One of the most successful films in French history with 19 million viewers, the surprise hit made a star of Sy, who takes his place as the most prominent black actor in a country where nearly all the leading film thespians are white.
Sy — who comes from the gritty Paris surburb of Trappes and made a name as a comic actor on television — said prior to the ceremony that skin colour was not a central issue for him.
“I don’t want to be the black guy of the moment,” he told L’Express magazine.
But he has also admitted having to turn down roles that would have typecast him as a thug or petty criminal.
The Weinstein company has bought an option for the film’s US remake rights — but it received an extremely frosty reception from several US reviewers including Variety which slammed it as racist.
“Driss is treated as nothing but a performing monkey… entertaining the master while embodying all the usual stereotypes about class and race,” wrote the magazine in a vitriolic review.