Letter from Africa: Mali ‘Spiderman’ is the superhero of our modern age


Malian "Spiderman" rescues Paris child - then meets French president
Image caption Malian “Spiderman” rescues Paris child – then meets French president

 Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih says the Malian migrant who scaled a building to save a child in Paris is the kind of superhero the world’s migrants need.

As a child growing up reading translated DC and Marvel comics in Sudan, I believed in superheroes – but I didn’t understand why none of them looked like me, or had stories that people like me could relate to.

Maybe that’s why I decided to become a cartoonist.

All my childhood feelings came to the surface on Tuesday when I stumbled across the viral video showing a man selflessly scaling four storeys of a building in less than 20 seconds in Paris, the French capital.

He went on to save a young boy hanging dangerously off the edge of a balcony.

‘Better than Black Panther’

Furiously refreshing my Twitter feed, I began to receive bits and pieces about the identity of the mystery man dubbed the #ParisSpiderman.

His name was Mamoudou Gassama, an illegal immigrant from Mali.

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Khalid Albaih:

Image copyrightSTIFAN RUIZSudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih

“In particular, it was interesting to note that his religion was not mentioned”

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This was a much better and more realistic plot than the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther, I thought to myself while refreshing the social media site in a bid to find this new hero’s origin story.

In particular, it was interesting to note that his religion was not mentioned – usually among the first details to be revealed in click-bait headlines and hashtags when an immigrant does something negative.

In only a few hours, the headlines changed: #ParisSpiderman was invited to meet the French President Emmanuel Macron, who had decided he was going to grant him citizenship for his heroic efforts.

It was typical zero-to-hero intro to a superhero story.

Image copyrightKHALID ALBAIHA cartoon showing migrants at the sea being stopped by a guard saying Europe only takes superheroes now
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What his feat highlights is the stereotypes – black, struggling, poor, lives in a ghetto – and a quick fast-forward to the acceptance scene, where the unknown underdog saves the child in a public spectacle and POW!

There you have it, the introduction of the new “minority” hero – the new addition to the all-white superhero line-up.

But in fact scaling that building was probably one of the easiest things Mr Gassama had done in years.

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