Disney+’s French historical drama Oussekine will present the “dark part of our national history books,” according to its creator, who sought inspiration from Ava DuVernay’s U.S. Netflix smash When They See Us.
Antoine Chevrollier’s four-parter, one of the first Disney+ France originals to be greenlit, tells the story of the tragic death of Malik Oussekine, the response of his family down the years and the ripple effect on French society. In 1986, the young French-Algerian student was chased and beaten to death by police at a protest against immigration restrictions, which were scrapped days later after the protests intensified in the wake of Oussekine’s death.
Launching on adult-skewing vertical Star on May 11, the show features Messiah‘s Sayyid El Alami as Malik and Succession’s Hiam Abbas as his mother Aicha Oussekine and is the first to be showrun by The Bureau director Chevrollier, who oversaw a team of three French writers.
He sought inspiration from pioneering U.S. filmmaker DuVernay’s When They See Us, the Emmy-winning series telling the tragic story of the Central Park Five, along with The Wire for the way in which the pioneering HBO show depicted different precincts.
“No one has really explained who Malik was and these immigrant stories are not told enough,” Chevrollier told Deadline days before launch. “This is a dark part of our national history book and so it was important for me to show what happened and explain and speak to this community.”
Chevrollier first came across the story as a young man almost 30 years ago after listening to a song by French rap group Assassin about how the French state had killed Malik Oussekine eight years earlier.
He wanted to tell it in a universal way and was contacted by the production company Itinéraire Productions and Disney, who were happy to greenlight having been impressed with his work directing smash political thriller The Bureau and Canal+’s Baron Noir.
Chevrollier worked with his three-strong writers room to tell a wider narrative around French history.
One episode depicts the 1961 Paris massacre during the Algerian War and another tells of the fear created by the Front Nationale’s 1980s protests.
“When we dug around the story we found something much wider than expected,” he added. “This isn’t just the murder of Malik Oussekine by the French police but is also a story of the different trajectories of his family around several moments in French history.”
For Chevrollier, depicting the incident sensitively and impartially was key and he spent every Sunday afternoon for four months with Oussekine’s two brothers, slowly gaining their trust as they started to open up.
“The heart and spirit of the show was about the family and intimacy so I couldn’t do this show without them,” he said. “I needed to have this moral stamp.”
At the same time, Chevrollier impressed upon his writing team the need to depict the events with subjectivity and made sure he spent time with the precincts involved in order to avoid “telling the story from an idealists’ point of view” so it didn’t appear anybody was being “protected.”
He praised Disney+ for swiftly becoming the home of a wealth of adult-skewing content via Star.
Oussekine was one of four French originals on the streamer’s debut European slate in February 2021, alongside Quoc Dang Tran’s sci-fi Parallels, Baptiste Filleul’s comedy Weekend Family and Star doc Soprano: Sing or Die.
Speaking exclusively to Deadline in March, Dang Tran, who recently signed a major deal with Universal International Studios, said the streaming revolution has gifted European creatives the opportunity to write genres that used to be the preserve of English-language writers.