The Google Doodle for today honours French actor Habib Benglia, who turns 128 years old. Benglia was the first actor of African descent to be cast in important roles in both theatre and film.
On this day in 1895, Benglia was born in Oran, Algeria. Timbuktu was where he was raised before he went to study in France. He enjoyed theatre and frequently attended performs, but his dream job was to become an agricultural engineer. He was inspired to audition for plays after a talent scout noticed him reciting poetry to friends. He went on to star in Le Minaret, Aphrodite, and L’Oedipe Roi de Bouhélier.
Benglia studied acting after being demobilised from World War I. He received an important part in The Emperor Jones in 1923. As a result, 27-year-old Benglia became the first black actor to play the lead role in a play at the national French theatre. Un soir à Bamako (An Evening in Bamako), one of the stories he later composed, was broadcast on television in 1950.
In films like Dainah la Métisse, Sola, and Les Mystères de Paris, Benglia played the lead. However, Benglia’s attempts to play more flexible roles were mostly thwarted by colonial film. Benglia appeared in more than a hundred plays at this time despite prejudice and racism. The legacy of Benglia, one of the forerunners of Black theatre and film in France, continues to be important for all underrepresented actors.
Happy birthday, Habib Benglia!
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