Mercy College to Host New York Premiere of Documentary Celebrating Famous Writer Alexandre Dumas’ Black Heritage

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On Wednesday, February 22 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., the Mercy College School of Education and School of Liberal Arts will host the New York premiere of Trenhorne Films’ documentary “The Three Dumas” in the Rotunda on the Dobbs Ferry Campus. The film chronicles the lives of celebrated 19th-century French writer Alexandre Dumas and his family, emphasizing their Black ancestry as descendants of an enslaved person from one of France's former colonies. The film screening is free and open to the Mercy community and the general public.

“It's important to highlight that someone like Dumas who achieved such fame and success was descended from an enslaved African-Caribbean woman, especially because that fact is not well-known,” said Eric Martone, dean of the School of Education. “In celebrating Dumas, we hope that everyone who sees the film aspires to achieve at the same level and sees that it’s possible to do so.”

In the fall, the filmmakers contacted Martone to invite Mercy College to host the New York premiere of the documentary, which was previously screened in Boston, Chicago and several cities in Europe. Martone is an internationally known expert on Dumas, having published three books and several journal articles on the writer.

The first part of the documentary focuses on the first Alexandre Dumas, a general in the French Revolution who was the son of a French aristocrat and an enslaved woman in Saint-Domigue (now Haiti). The second part focuses on Alexandre Dumas the writer — who wrote famous adventure novels such as “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers” — and his son who was also a writer named Alexandre Dumas.

During his life, Dumas experienced overt and more subtle racism. For example, when describing him, French contemporaries emphasized features of his appearance that they thought made him look African. Others criticized his writing unfairly, particularly because of his commercial success and use of uncredited collaborators, which Martone argues may have been racially motivated.

“For many years, Dumas' Black ancestry was obscured,” said Martone. “Upon his death in 1870, he became a debated symbol of French culture and identity. At that time, many people did not know how to reconcile his legacy with his mixed racial identity. Only in the mid-20th century did some intellectuals begin to promote the view that Dumas is an example of how France has always been diverse. In 2002, he was celebrated as someone who exemplifies what it means to be French during the bicentennial of his birth. As France continues to debate what it means to be French, Dumas remains a controversial icon.”