I recently watched the first season of the BBC’s The Musketeers. I majored in Film and Television Studies at university and one of my favourite things to discuss quickly became the social context in which media is created and how that affects the end product. The Musketeers came out only a few years after the American made film The Three Musketeers so after watching the British production I decided to sit down and re-watch the American film and compare the two.
I wasn’t particularly surprised to discover that the British version was better. It’s not necessarily fair to compare a TV show to a movie as even a short series has significantly more time to develop the story and its characters. However I’m not sure if extra run time would have helped The Three Musketeers. While the film had the advantage of a bigger budget, this simply served to make it visually impressive.
The first difference that struck me was how white the American version was when compared to the British version. This often seems to be the case when comparing American and British versions of stories. I thought it was a bold move for the BBC to make Porthos black. Much to my surprise, when I started reading the book I discovered that Porthos has always been black. The real life Musketeer that Porthos is based on is a man called Isaac de Porthau who was a black musketeer, and not the only one by far. All of the versions of The Three Musketeers that I have watched over the years have lied to me. The BBC was being ‘progressive’ by deciding to stay true to a story set in 1625 written in 1844 by the most definitely black Alexandre Dumas. And the sad thing is, it is progressive to show depictions of the past that aren’t as exclusively white.
Louis X declared that ‘France signifies freedom’, decreeing that any slave that steps foot in France should be freed, in 1315. Why did it take until 2014 for me to see a black Porthos?