I never knew there was a dog present during the massacre at Charlie Hebdo last year. Lila, the cocker spaniel who came to work with her owner, Eric Portheault, looked on as the humans in her life fell one by one. Guided by instinct, she lay on Portheault’s face as he played dead on the ground in an attempt to go unnoticed. It worked. Both dog and owner lived to be haunted by what happened on January 7th, 2015. The four-legged hero still brings comfort and serenity to the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, one year later.
This was the part of the story, as told in the documentary film now on Netflix, Je Suis Charlie, that broke me.
The film, by the father and son team, Emmanuel and Daniel Leconte, takes an inside look at the immediate aftermath of the massacre, as experienced by the surviving Hebdo staff as well as the French public. Using clips from a documentary about Hebdo they’d done in 2008, called It’s Hard Being Loved By Jerks, we experience the ghosts of slain cartoonists, Charb and Cabu. These lost artists articulate how they felt about the case that had been raised against Charlie Hebdo by French and European Islamic groups for defamation and incitement of hatred.
“I’ll carry on doing my own thing, only I’ll do it more serenely, safe in the knowledge that people will stand up for freedom of expression”, says Charb.
It’s hard to take when the very next shot is a sea of people holding signs that say, “Je suis Charlie” in solidarity with a staff of cartoonists who were now mostly dead.
Surviving cartoonist, Corinne Rey, known as “Coco” describes how she was confronted by the killers as she left for lunch, and forced to lead them inside to her coworkers. You can’t help but watch in horror and disbelief as she relays her ordeal.
The scenes of French people coming out in full force to show their support are heartwarming until we are reminded how quickly the conversation turned to victim-blaming. Even now, in my perusal of other reviews of this film, I found critics complaining that the documentary did not show enough of the magazine’s artwork for us to judge for ourselves whether or not the slain Hebdo cartoonists had “signed their own death warrant.”
What is it about Islam that makes everyday, normal, loving people say such horrible things about people who were murdered for nothing more than a drawing? Even if that drawing was the most offensive drawing to everyone alive today, does this justify murder? What sort of a person would imply that an artist “had it coming” after they’d been shot and killed alongside their colleagues and left to die as a tiny cocker spaniel left paw prints around their office in blood? What monster could bring themselves to say such a thing?
The answer, unfortunately, is the vast majority of journalists in the wake of this massacre, and a great number of the reviewers who’ve written about this film. The sort of monster who has had their humanity hijacked by the crippling fear of appearing politically incorrect.
The film explored what is important. It questioned why Hebdo was willing to stand up for the Danish cartoonists who so infamously drew Mohammad, but when Hebdo needed our support, the world’s media turned away. Cartoons of Mohammad should have been front page on every newspaper and magazine across the globe in solidarity with their murdered peers. Instead, these media outlets questioned whether or not Charb and Cabu and nine others deserved to be shot dead in front of their coworkers, friends and a tiny, little dog named Lila.
From the film:
They were on the front line of a dangerous battle to defend what we are and all that is close to us. They gave their lives, not for a belligerent or cantankerous France, but for a joyful, generous France that defends the freedom to laugh at anything at the risk of laughing to death. This is how we are to understand the amazing outpouring from the French people who identified with comic journalists who dared to say what everyday journalists no longer knew how to. As if they, themselves, had been targeted by the carnage, they stood up to say, ‘Je Suis Charlie’.
Check out Je Suis Charlie on Netflix. Be sure to let me know what you think of it in the comments below.