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A Review of the Netflix Series Lupin: The Issue of Visibility 

By Demet Kamburoğlu

Saturday, April 3, 2021.

You underestimated me. You didn’t look at me. You saw me, but you didn’t really look,” is a passage that lingers with you after watching the show Lupin. The new Netflix series examines and explores the idea of being present and visible in a society that chooses to be blind and prefers not seeing the others. Others can be defined as everyone who originates from a different culture or race, or even a from a different starting than the popular at a certain place and time.

Lupin is the crime-fuelled biographical tale of Assane Diop (Omar Sy), who essentially aims to be acknowledged in a society where people like him are rarely visible or mostly misrepresented. Lupin’s story shows one of the reasons why people like Assane are deliberately misrepresented. As a child, Assane encountered institutional racism at a very early age. As an adult, he  takes the advice of his favourite novel Arsène Lupin, and plays the societal game in order to escape the margins of the French society. He succeeds. But on whose terms?

“You saw me, but you didn’t really look. Just like ‘they’ don't”, is the echo of the message that the Netflix series Lupin gives. It is an echo of the modern world we live in, the echo of a social issue present in yesterday’s and today’s world: The issue of visibility. Does the visibility of a particular class make the marginalised members of the society fade away? Does the pronoun of they linguistically and socially divide us? Lupin tells us these seem to be the case. Assane stands against the norms of the social class system; he changed his social status and identity by replacing it with a fictional one; somehow, this fictional identity becomes more real and apparent in terms of its societal visibility. The unjustified events in Assane's life represent the realities of systemic racism in western societies. 

Lupin is inspired and named after the famous French novel Arsène Lupin, the story of a gentleman burglar, written by the French author Maurice Leblanc. The main character, Assane, comes from a Senegalese immigrant family, and his father, Babakar (Fargass Assande), works as a chauffeur to a wealthy Parisian family, who eventually orchestrated his downfall. Babakar is pictured as a single father and we, as the audience, witness the father’s attempts to raise his young son to the best of his ability. One day, he gives his son Assane a Lupin novel, and ultimately, the book changes Assane’s life. However, what essentially creates the core of the story is the unjustified arrest of Assane’s father. This introduces the racial and social bias present in the country as the main element of the story. 

The story of Assane Diop shows how people of African descent are perceived by many in the French society. The first example of this perception occurs when Assane’s father, Babakar, is accused of stealing by the wealthy family he works for. Eventually, he gets arrested under a false accusation without any further evidence, pointing out the rabid racism that permeates the French legal system. The end result causes serious distress for Babakar and his young son. This scenario points out a stereotype for people from African nationalities in the Western world, which implies false accusations and half definitions for people and thereby generates half rights and freedoms. Babakar’s story indicates how systems are influenced by these stereotypes of the societies and how people of privilege can exploit this as an advantage.

Here, I’d like to take a moment to remember Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk about “The Danger of a Single Story.” In this excellent talk, Adichie reminded us how easy it was to create one story and perpetuate it through generations; and how dangerous this was for those who are “stereotyped”. By telling a single story to nations, the social classes, and communities’, a sense of rationalisation for further injustices is created. Babakar’s story is a perfect example of such a situation. 

By assuming roles based on these stereotypes, Assane manipulates people’s expectations of him. In other words, he switches between stereotypes and identities through his manners and costumes. Assane’s master plan of stealingan an expensive  necklace, and almost all his other plans, are successful due to his awareness of the social etiquette and accepted identities of the personas he assumes. This allows him to be naturally accepted in the museum as a janitor in the morning and as a millionaire in the evening. 

He takes on the behaviour assigned to these identities and plays them confidently, being quiet as a janitor in overalls and self-assured as a millionaire in a bespoke suit. These scripts are inspired by Arsène Lupin, known as the gentleman of crime, who becomes a lifetime idol for Assane at a very young age. As Assane wears the figure of Lupin and plays in the shadow of a gentleman’s identity, he is supported within the society due to his looks, words, and acts. Unlike his father who is totally honest, Assane is a burglar, stealing for good and bad causes, but he is safe - because he is now part of the French society.    

Demet Kamburoğlu is a student journalist, who is currently studying for a degree in literary and cultural studies, at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


A Review of the Netflix Series "Lupin"

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