You likely don’t know the name Joseph Bologne, aka Chevalier de Saint-Georges, but you should know so much about his life, including why you shouldn’t call him the “Black Mozart.”
Bologne is the subject of the upcoming Searchlight Pictures film Chevalier, which had its world premiere over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is directed by Stephen Williams (HBO’s Watchmen), written by Stefani Robinson (FX’s Atlanta) and stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Minnie Driver, Alex Fitzalan and more.
The film kicks off with Bologne upstaging Mozart as we then revisit his early life and how he went from being an outcast to becoming friends with Marie Antoinette and almost becoming the next leader of the Paris Opera.
It goes through how he overcame racism and trials and tribulations as a Guadeloupe-born son of an enslaved African woman and a white French man. Sent away by his father at a young age and taken away from his mother, even being educated at the top schools and being in the upper class could not take away the fact that he was Black. Chevalier is not just his musical journey, but his ideological one as well.
Harrison spoke on stage about how his father, a classical music teacher, would teach kids a concerto in six months. Talking about training, he joked, “When it was over, that violin never saw me again.”
On stage after the TIFF World Premiere at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Robinson explained, "Both Stephen and I were drawn to the transitional period between a person who was so in a group and a bigger thing and what it meant to go from a musician who played for the queen to being someone who led soldiers against the monarchy."
“We were all familiar with his work,” said Williams of Harrison. “He’s done so much illustrious work prior to hours but we needed someone who was going to go on that deep dive. Everyone who saw the movie tonight understands that Kelvin just didn’t do the work traditionally–everything you see in that movie is Kelvin. We needed someone who was going to do that. There was a serious attempt to erase this person from history and we all got together and embarked on this journey to try to honor him. And in resurrecting him, we needed someone like Kelvin.”
The movie notes that though he went from musician to rebellion leader, during Napoleon’s reign there was an orchestrated attempt to ban his music as slavery was brought back.
Chevalier will be released in theaters later this year.