August 7, 2007 / 7:20 PM / 10 years ago

Tintin faces racism challenge in Belgium

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Congolese student has launched legal action in Belgium to have the comic book “Tintin in the Congo” declared racist and removed from bookstores.

The book portrays Africans as stereotypical black characters and shows whites as their colonial masters.

“I want to put an end to sales of this cartoon book in shops, both for children and for adults. It’s racist and it is filled with colonial-era propaganda,” said Mbutu Mondondo Bienvenu, who lives in Brussels.

Bienvenu is also seeking symbolic damages of one euro ($1.38) from Moulinsart, the publisher that owns the rights to Tintin.

Belgian prosecutors said a motion had been filed at the beginning of August. A judge will examine the case, probably not before September, but a decision on whether to proceed could take six months, they said.

Belgium controlled the country that is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo until 1960.

Moulinsart said it was only aware of the action through the media. A spokesman argued the company was not in a position to remove the book from shelves as it controlled Tintin rights, but did not publish the novels.

“The book dates back to 1931 and has to be seen in the context of the time. We are surprised to see this complaint after so many years,” the spokesman said.

“Look at John Wayne films and there are Indians being killed. But I‘m not aware of calls to withdraw these movies.”

A call by Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality earlier this year for bookstores to remove the Tintin edition from their shelves prompted one chain to move the book from its children’s section to the shelves for adult graphic stories.

Sales of the book in Britain subsequently shot up.

In May, the centenary of the birth of Tintin’s Belgian creator Herge -- real name Georges Remi -- was marked with a set of stamps, a 20-euro coin and an exhibition in honor of the ageless reporter -- one of the country’s most famous exports.

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