french equatorial africa

“Making Friends…with a pair of baby giraffes that appear with him in M-G-M’s “Mogambo”, Clark Gable quickly learned the long-necked animals make gentle, affectionate pets.  Gable and Ava Gardner are co-stars of the thrilling adventure picture, filmed in Technicolor during an actual 10,000-mile safari through the jungles and bush county of Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda and French Equatorial Africa.  “Mogambo” was directed by John Ford and produced by Sam Zimbalist.”


As Women’s History Month draws to a close, this week we take a look at the 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple.  The story centers on Celie Harris Johnson as she struggles to find her voice and self-confidence while coming of age in the American South during the first half of the twentieth century. 

While the narrative of The Color Purple is told from Celie’s point of view, there are two other female characters - Nettie, Celie’s beloved sister, and Shug, the mistress of Celie’s husband Albert - whose histories are essential to the plot but unknown to Celie and, thus, the audience.  To help convey the lives of Nettie and Shug and weave their stories seamlessly into the narrative without leaving Celie’s story, director Steven Spielberg relied on production designer J. Michael Riva and his crew in the art department.  Working from Menno Meyjes’ screenplay, Riva set out to fashion props that would help encapsulate, in an economical and strikingly visual way, the backstories that, once revealed, become pivotal in the propulsion of the film’s narrative. 

To illustrate the part of Shug’s life to which Celie is not privy, Riva and his department created a scrapbook of letters, fliers and sheet music that reflected her life on the road as an entertainer. The scrapbook pages show a side of Albert that is not obvious to Celie or the audience – that he adored Shug and cared enough to collect the mementos of her career.  They show too Shug’s love for Celie, as the sheet music for “Miss Celie’s Blues” reveals that she performs a song in Celie’s honor.   

Using only ink, stationery and vintage postage stamps, the art department also made Nettie’s rich life in Africa come alive.  The variations of fading and discoloration of the correspondence help indicate the passage of time, and the authentic stamps and postmarks trace Nettie’s travels across the African continent, including the Belgian Congo, French Equatorial Africa, Rhodesia and Zanzibar.  Although the letters are only shown briefly onscreen, the detail with which they are imbued implies Nettie’s disparate life and her devotion to Celie throughout the decades they were separated.

For The Color Purple, J. Michael Riva and his team made hidden worlds visible and believable by creating tangible artifacts of the characters’ lives and histories. The artists conducted more than a year of research to achieve authenticity on the production design and set decoration aspects of the film, and their work was recognized with an Academy Award nomination, one of eleven the film received overall.

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French battleship Richelieu

Ordered in 1935, and designed to counter the Italian Littorio-class battleships, Richelieu was the first French 35,000-ton battleship.

Namesake: Cardinal de Richelieu.                      Length: 247.9 m (813 ft)
Builder: Brest Navy Yard.                                    Beam: 33 m (108 ft)
Laid down: 22 October 1935.                              Draught: 9.7 m (32 ft)
Launched: 17 January 1939.                               Propulsion: 150,000 hp

main armament: eight to nine guns of 380/406 mm calibre

speed: 29.5–30 knots
protection: belt 360 mm, upper armored deck 160 mm, lower armored deck 40 mm, and underwater protection.

In June 1940 he fled the port of Brest a few hours before the arrival of Germans with only 250 shells for the main calibre and nothing for 152 mm. Richelieu reached Dakar on 23 June.

On 7 July, six days after the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir, Captain of HMS Hermes sent an ultimatum to the French with the same terms as the one sent at Mers-el-Kébir. At about 05.00, six Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from HMS Hermes 814th Squadron FAA under Lieutenant-Commander Luard attacked Richelieu and hit him several times. Repair of Richelieu began during July and August.

In late July, Free French forces took control of three of the four colonies of French Equatorial Africa. Subsequently, Winston Churchill and General Charles de Gaulle decided to organize an operation (Operation Menace) to similarly take control of French West Africa controled by the Vichy authorities (collaborationist).

In December 1942, Governor General Boisson, who had a good relationship with the Consulate of the United States in Dakar, agreed that the French forces in West Africa would join the Allies under the authority of Admiral Darlan in Algiers.

Richelieu left Dakar on 30 January 1943, and reached New York on 11 February, to refit at the New York Navy Yard. After two-and-a-half years in tropical waters without docking, a shipyard overhaul was badly needed.

Richelieu sailed for Mers El-Kebir and Algiers on 14 October 1943, to join the British Mediterranean Fleet. As three King George V-class battleships were then facing only one German battleship, Tirpitz, Richelieu was redirected to participate, along with HMS Nelson, in the battleship force supporting the Normandy landing. Due to her lack of high explosive shells for attacks against land targets, she was finally designated to join the British Eastern Fleet, in the Indian Ocean, to cover for British battleships undergoing refit.

Richlieu arrived at Trincomalee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on 10 April 1944.
Relieved by HMS Howe, Richelieu returned to Europe. From Algiers to Toulon, where she arrived on 1 October 1944, 52 months after having left France.

She was refitted in Gibraltar in January 1945, and rejoined the Eastern Indies Fleet until the end of the war against Japan, arriving back at Trincomalee on 20 March 1945.

After V-J Day, during the last four months of 1945, Richelieu took part in the return of French forces to Indochina.

Richelieu was condemned on 16 January 1968 and renamed Q432. She was scrapped by Cantieri Navali Santa Maria of Genoa in September 1968. One of her guns is on display in the harbor of Brest.