Oussekine: The police killing that shocked France


Oussekine tells the story of Oussekine’s death from the perspective of the oppressed – not only Oussekine himself but his family, as they fought for justice. It has been created, written and directed by Antoine Chevrollier (previously one of the directors of spy thriller series The Bureau, starring Kassovitz) and co-written by French literary sensation Faïza Guène, as well as Julien Lilti and Cédric Ido, with the writer’s room being representative of the multicultural France being depicted on screen. The talent in front of the camera includes Hiam Abbas, the revered Palestinian actress perhaps best known as Marcia Roy in Succession, who plays Oussekine’s mother, in what is another incredible performance, alongside rising stars Sayyid El Alami, Malek Lamraoui, Tewfik Jallab, Naidra Ayadi and Mouna Soualem.
Series creator Chevrollier was around 10 years old when he first encountered the tragic story of Oussekine. Too young to watch La Haine, he heard the name on a rap album inspired by the film. “It was a song from the band Assassin called L’état Assassin, and the chorus was “L’état Assassin, une example Malik Oussekine” [The state of the assassin/one example Malik Oussekine], and his name got stamped on my mind.”
In March, the first episode of Oussekine played as the closing-night presentation of French television festival Series Mania in Lille, where the audience was spellbound. The opener traces how news of Malik’s death filtered through to the rest of the family. Rather than show the moment of death, it concentrates on the anguish that Malik’s sister Sarah goes through as she weighs up how and when she will tell her mother that her son is dead.
In an effort to give multiple perspectives on the life and death of Malik, the four episodes are divided thematically. The second concentrates on the police cover-up as they first lie about when and how Malik died and then try to massage the witness accounts and reports to put themselves in the best light possible. The third looks at the story of Oussekine’s family, with flashbacks to their life in Algeria starting in 1977 as it traces how Malik’s parents made the decision to move to France. The final episode revolves around the court case, asking philosophical questions about the treatment of immigrants and what it means to be a multicultural society.
A national wake-up call
“There had been a period of hope for a lot of immigrants, especially from north Africa, following the election of President Mitterrand [in 1981],” states Chevrollier. In 1984, Mitterand’s Socialist government carried out a major reform that enhanced the rights of immigrants by introducing a combined residency and work permit for foreign residents valid for up to 10 years. It was part of a philosophy gaining momentum after the 1968 Paris protests that the idea of a one-size-fits-all, monolithic French culture was outdated in a world where populations shifted more rapidly. “But the death of Oussekine was the beginning of a less rosy reality,” explains Chevrollier.