Where Are All of the Black People in ‘Lupin’?
Netflix’s newest bingeable heist series plays with race, but insists on doing so in a lily-white version of Paris.
In Lupin, Netflix’s new French heist series, the first score takes place below the Louvre. Having joined the building’s janitorial crew weeks before, Assane Diop (Omar Sy) ascends into the opulent showrooms of the historic museum, transforming with the scenery from musty custodian to self-made tuxedoed playboy. The seamlessness of his metamorphosis nods at Assane’s Blackness — singular among the snowflake elite in the Louvre, nondescript among members of the working class in its bowels.
We’ve seen this fish-out-of-water juxtaposition before: Think Sammy Davis Jr. in Ocean’s 11. But in Lupin, as viewers get to know Assane Diop, it becomes clear that this is a key element of his shtick: he wields stereotypes, his presumed poverty and criminality, against his marks. In fact, race plays a central role throughout the show, which has lodged comfortably in Netflix’s “Trending” carousel since its January 8 release. But it too rarely bears fruit, desiccated by its own fantastical backdrop. The fictional world cherry-picks systematic racial dynamics from reality and simply erases Blackness elsewhere, begging the question: How could a vision of 21st century Paris — with its rich history of Black and Brown migration and creation — be so unseasoned?
Lupin’s creators are keyed in on that conversation, with the thieves frequently taking advantage of racism’s inherent irrationality. But the same can’t be said about the setting where the characters are based.
Arsène Lupin first originated as a character in Maurice Leblanc’s 1905 thriller, The Arrest of Arsène Lupin, where the master of disguise is apprehended for the first time on a cruise ship. In that collection, he breaks out of prison, wears a number of disguises, and makes all of the girls blush. Over his 115 years of existence, the gentlemanly thief has been interpreted…