From fictional French conman to surprise hero

Lupin’s heir: Assane Diop is inspired by a classic French literary hero. © Netflix

Should we be so fascinated by brilliant criminals? A new French drama about a cunning conman has become a massive Netflix hit. But some say Lupin sends entirely the wrong message.

Assane Diop stares at the necklace. It has rows of pearls and jewels and once adorned Marie Antoinette.

As a 6ft 2in Black man, Diop stands out in French high society. Dressed in the grey of a cleaner at the nation’s most famous museum, he is invisible: one of the many people of colour who arrive at the Louvre every day to work.

As he stands before the jewels, Diop is formulating a plan. The necklace will be his.

This is the opening scene of Lupin, a new French Netflix series that is a global hit.

Lupin tells the story of Assane Diop, a brilliant conman with a heart of gold who pulls off a series of stunning thefts in Paris.

The series’ title comes from the fictional character who inspires Diop’s crimes – Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief invented by writer Maurice Leblanc in 1905.

Lupin commits his first crime at six, stealing the same necklace to help his mother after she is treated badly by her boss. For Diop, the robbery is vengeance for his father, a Senegalese immigrant who was framed for stealing the necklace 25 years earlier, and who died in prison.

Diop is the latest in a line of criminals who have captured the popular imagination.

From folklore classic Robin Hood to Villanelle, we have long been fascinated by brilliant crimes.

Should we be fascinated by brilliant criminals?

The art of deception

No. Assane Diop is not a hero. Fictional shows like Lupin glamorise a life of crime. It is wrong to use words like “clever” to describe people who rob others. Criminals deserve condemnation.

It is harmless escapism. Crime dramas are popular not because they portray criminals but because they show ordinary people outsmarting the most sophisticated systems. The thrill of heist stories comes from the crossover of hero and villain. Assane Diop is a thief – but is also a moral man.

You Decide

  1. Is Assane Diop a hero?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are in charge of looking after Marie Antoinette’s necklace. In groups, draw a diagram showing all the security measures you would introduce to protect the necklace from thieves.

Some People Say...

“Fictional good is boring and flat, whole fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound and full of charm.”

Simone Weil (1909 - 1943), French philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that race is a common theme throughout Lupin’s five episodes. Race allows Diop to blend in as a cleaner, but it also makes him stand out, beyond suspicion, when he turns up at the museum as a tech entrepreneur at the necklace’s auction. In another scene, dressed as a policeman, he reclaims diamonds looted from the Belgian Congo. “The locals were sitting on a fortune,” the jewels’ elderly owner tells Diop unashamedly. “We just helped ourselves.”
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether producers and writers need to change the way they make crime dramas. In 2018, film journalist Catherine Shoard argued that Hollywood should stop making heist movies that portray robberies as a type of art. Instead of focusing on the criminals, films should focus on the victims – the security guards who lose their jobs, the bystanders who are traumatised and even the insurance companies.

Word Watch

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France. She was guillotined during the French Revolution. The necklace in the Netflix series is based on a real diamond necklace gifted to Marie Antoinette, which is now missing.
Arsène Lupin
The fictional Lupin is a master of disguise and a genius thief who often breaks the law for the greater good. Actor Omar Sy, who plays Diop, says Lupin is his dream role.
Robin Hood
The legendary outlaw depicted in English folklore who lived in Sherwood Forest and evaded the Sheriff of Nottingham to steal from the rich and give to the poor.
Villanelle
The assassin who murders a prominent politician with a single spray of her poisonous perfume in Killing Eve.
Sophisticated
Impressive, complex.

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