The teenage girl of African and Polish origin chosen to be this year’s Joan of Arc at the city of Orleans’ annual celebration of the French icon has come under attack from outraged far-Right trolls on social media.
Mathilde Edey Gamassou will be at the centre of the week-long event that starts late April, during which she will parade through the town on horseback, kitted out in medieval armour and brandishing a sword.
The French have for the past 600 years feted the peasant girl-turned-war commander as a national heroine for helping drive the English out of France.
But Joan of Arc is particularly venerated by the French far-Right as a symbol of national resistance, and every year Front National leaders place a wreath at her statue in Paris at the start of their traditional May Day parade.
The announcement earlier this week that Ms Gamassou, whose father is from Benin and whose mother is Polish, from among 250 girls in Orleans to depict Joan of Arc was met with a flurry of angry posts on Twitter and on far-right websites.
“Joan of Arc was not of mixed race, she’s white. Stop changing history and imposing multiculturalism on us,” said a tweet typical of a flood of posts lamenting that a part-black person could be picked to play the Catholic saint who was burned at the stake.f
Jeanne d'Arc n'est pas métisse, elle est blanche. Arrêter de modifier l'Histoire et de nous imposer le multiculturalisme.
— Valentin ?? (@BerthoudValenti) February 22, 2018
Women’s Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa also stepped into the row to defend the 17-year-old Ms Gamassou who is in her last year in school.
“The racist hatred of fascists has no place in the French republic,” she tweeted.
Tout mon soutien à Mathilde Edey Gamassou. #JeanneDarc n'appartient pas aux identitaires. L'Histoire de France non plus.
Je vois dès demain matin la @DILCRAH : la haine raciste de la fachosphère n'a pas sa place dans la République française. https://t.co/TkHhx74zts
— MarleneSchiappa (@MarleneSchiappa) February 21, 2018
Benedicte Baranger, president of the committee in charge of picking a girl for the honour, said she was saddened by some of the reactions.
“This girl was chosen for who she is, an interesting person and a lively spirit,” Baranger said.
“She responds to our four criteria – a resident of Orleans for 10 years, a student in an Orleans school, and a Catholic who gives her time to others.”
Aside from her school work, Ms Gamassou is a scout leader, a student of opera at the prestigious Orleans Conservatory and is learning to fence.