Dave Soltysik, Head of Media Studies and A Level Examiner
In this second blog post on getting to know the new long form television dramas for A Level Media Studies I’m going to focus on Lupin, a critically acclaimed and popular French drama. As mentioned in my previous blog, students find this an interesting topic as it allows them to integrate all their knowledge of the theoretical framework.
This series is fantastic if you have a cohort who enjoy delving deep into the underlying contextual influences on television dramas and how they shape representations of social groups, issues and events.
The Netflix series Lupin is inspired by the fictional character Arsène Lupin, a charming thief and expert in disguise created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc in 1905. The television drama uses the character to explore themes and issues related to the French colonial era, which can be seen to motivate the protagonist Assane (played by Omar Sy) to steal the necklace.
The characterisation of Assane Diop and casting of Omar Sy is an interesting starting point. Both Sy and the character he portrays are of French-Senegalese descent which may shed light on some of the narrative choices and complexities in the representation of Assane. This casting choice could be seen to add an element of realism to the character by reflecting the diverse makeup of French society.
You could look at how Lupin intertwines the representation of contemporary France with the historical legacy of French colonialism through the portrayal of cultural and power imbalances. Additionally, flashbacks highlight how Assane and Babakar (his father), two immigrants of working-class backgrounds, cope with living in the upper-class world of the Pellegrini family.
When considering contexts it may be useful to explore the influence of the rise of anti-immigration and far-right politicians such as Marine Le Pen or the historical hard-line stance on immigration taken by former President Nicolas Sarkozy and policies such as his burqa ban. This context may be considered within the broader themes of the drama including social inequality, corruption, and the marginalisation and under-representation of the immigrant experience.
Lupin was released in January 2021 during the global pandemic when demand for home entertainment was high. The crime-thriller genre of the show offered escapism which was a distraction from the monotony of lockdown.
The drama’s success in English-speaking countries, such as the USA, was partly due to it being immediately available in a dubbed version which would automatically play in English if the audience member was detected to be in an English-speaking country. Bela Bajaria, Head of Global TV at Netflix, suggests viewing of non-English language programs by Netflix’s American subscribers increased by 67% between 2019 and 2021.
There are several compelling representations in this drama, including that of Assane, the Pellegrini family, the representation of Babakar when Assane was a teenager and the thought-provoking depiction of the Black immigrant experience.
The success of the drama perhaps partly stems from the interplay of dominant ideologies and witty subversion of stereotypes. You could consider how technical aspects of the episode are used to draw on stereotypes in the representation of Assane. Despite being the protagonist, Assane is entertainingly aware that he is overlooked by authorities. An interesting scene to analyse could be when Assane explains to the drug-ring leader, Vincent, “See, you underestimated me… just like they do”, alluding to the power imbalances between the working-class and upper-class that exist in contemporary Paris.
You could also consider how other characters’ interactions with Assane reinforces certain representations – for example Anne’s innate prejudice when she locks the door when seeing Babakar trying to help her with the car. You may wish to discuss how Assane’s role as a cleaner, his involvement in a drug ring and his overall portrayal as a criminal reinforces the historical misrepresentation and marginalisation of this social group.
The binary representation of the Pellegrini family in contrast to Assane and Babakar is also intriguing. Consider how the Pellegrinis could be seen as a microcosm of the rich and upper-class Parisian families and the extent to which this offers a critique of contemporary social and cultural attitudes in France. For instance, Hubert’s treatment of Babakar highlights a clear power imbalance, as well as cultural differences. Babakar is represented as polite and courteous, whereas Hubert is portrayed as rude and abrupt. This binary makes Babakar’s unjust arrest all the more shocking.
Considering the contextual factors outlined above is also crucial to understanding how the Black immigrant experience is represented in the drama. It might be interesting to consider how the historical impact of French colonialism can be seen in relation to the character of Babakar. He clearly experiences more discrimination than his son, Assane. Could this be related to changing attitudes and social conventions? Consider how the African diaspora has been incorporated into the representation of France as a multicultural nation.
The hybrid nature of the series makes it intriguing in terms of genre, and it’s worth examining how Neale’s ideas about genre can be applied to the drama. Lupin uses conventions from several genres including crime, thriller and mystery, broadening its appeal to a wider audience whilst influencing its characters, narrative and representations.
The use of a non-linear narrative structure, filled with flashbacks and red herrings, arguably serves two purposes. It provides an overview of Assane’s plan and explains how Babakar’s mistreatment led to the central conflict of the narrative. The non-linear narrative is also used to misdirect the audience, adding to the tension and suspense in the first episode.
Lupin’s modern take on a French cultural touchstone is a welcome addition to the OCR specification and I hope that this blog provides you with a few starting points for thinking about this drama. For more information about the changes to set products for A Level Media Studies and resources to support you, see the Media Studies set products page on our website.
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Dave Soltysik is Head of Media Studies in a large comprehensive secondary school and sixth form in Hertfordshire. He is an A Level and GCSE examiner and moderator. Dave is passionate about exploring innovative, fresh and relevant approaches to teaching Media Studies and ensuring that it remains a vital part of the curriculum.