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A French film wreaked havoc in cinemas. Why is ‘Les SEGPA Au Ski’ so controversial?

'Les SEGPA Au Ski' was a box office smash in France, but made headlines for the wrong reasons.
'Les SEGPA Au Ski' was a box office smash in France, but made headlines for the wrong reasons. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Anca Ulea
Published on Updated
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Several French cinemas have cancelled showings of ‘Les SEGPA Au Ski’ over disruptive behaviour by young moviegoers. But is the film really to blame?

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In Montpellier, a mid-sized city in the south of France, the premiere of the film Les SEGPA Au Ski on 27 December was crashed by police officers, who were called to restore order inside a movie theatre where violence suddenly erupted. 

According to local media, some 30 spectators began yelling insults during the screening, with some getting into physical altercations. The film was paused several times before the police were called by staff to intervene.

It could have been a minor occurrence, a “faits divers” as the French say, but similar incidents were reported in cities across France, with amateur videos showing scenes of chaos breaking out in movie theatres.

Projectiles and punches

The manager of a cinema in the southwestern French city of Mont-de-Marsan said he decided to stop playing the film altogether, after several showtimes were disrupted by mostly teenaged audience members.

According to local reports, the youngsters spoke loudly during the film, threw popcorn and spat on the floor, ran across the seats and even broke one of the doors to the screening room.

“It’s not our job to be the police,” the manager of the Grand Club Cinema told France Bleu.

So what is the deal with this film, and what about it is causing some French teenagers to lose their composure in public?

A sequel about struggling students

Les SEGPA Au Ski is a sequel to Les SEGPA, a runaway success when it came out in 2022, selling 700,000 tickets at the French box office.

The comedy was written and directed by two newcomers to French cinema, brothers Hakim and Ali Bougheraba, whose popular 2016 web series of the same name caught the attention of media personalities, including controversial TV and radio host Cyril Hanouna.

Hanouna, whose programme “Touche Pas à Mon Poste (TPMP)” is one of the most watched in France, became a co-producer on the 2022 film.

A cultural lightning-rod himself, Hanouna has been accused of spreading messages that are homophobic, ableist and lax on sexual harassment.

Les SEGPA was almost immediately criticised, accused of spreading harmful stereotypes about children with learning difficulties.

SEGPA is a French acronym that stands for “section d'enseignement général et professionnel” – it’s essentially a class for students who struggle with learning that prepares them to go into vocational industries after graduating.

Many real-life SEGPA teachers in France said the film made their students into caricatures.

"My students are going to be made caricatures at the movies like they have been on Youtube," wrote one SEGPA teacher on X when the first film was released. "They're going to be made to look like idiots, crushing their already hobbled self-confidence."

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But the cast – many of whom have been in SEGPA themselves – has defended the film against its critics.

“The SEGPA has two groups of people – those who let themselves get knocked down by others, and those who want to prove themselves and succeed,” Walid Ben Amar, one of the actors from the film, told French radio SkyRockFM. “And this film summarises the SEGPA perfectly, the way I experienced it at least,”

Local news, national buzz

The sequel was just as successful as its predecessor, selling 475,000 tickets on its opening weekend and quickly becoming one of France’s biggest box office hits of 2023. 

But the disruptions at a minority of screenings are what ended up making national headlines across the country.

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The trailer for "Les SEGPA Au Ski".

In reality, the kind of chaos seen all over social media was only reported in 8 screenings – out of 10,500, according to Le Parisien.

Nevertheless, pundits flocked to French airwaves to wax lyrical about what was happening to the youth, insulting a whole lot of young people in the process.

“This is a film that attracts a group of people who aren’t used to going to cinemas and don’t know proper cinema etiquette,” said French cinema journalist Nicolas Colle on BFMTV, in one of the most egregious responses to the scuffles.

One of the screenwriters and actors of Les SEGPA Au Ski, Ichem Bougheraba, hit back, saying: “Shut your mouths, this is a problem with education. Parents, educate your kids. If I did this at the movies, my mom would smack me 124 times when I got home.”

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Looking past the excitement and controversy, the film was generally panned by critics, called “mediocre” and “cinema for dummies”.

But that sure didn’t stop people from talking about it – the hashtag #segpaauski had 2.2 million views on TikTok at the time this article was published.

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