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Liberté d’expression, Free Speech and “Cancel Culture” 

A transatlantic event co-presented by La Maison française of New York University, The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States and French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) 

This April, three leading French cultural organizations based in New York will bring together more than a dozen thinkers from the U.S. and France for a transatlantic festival investigating the state of liberté d’expression or free speech in the age of what has been called “cancel culture.”

Presented entirely online over the weekend of April 23 to 25, the conference features three in-depth conversations, each one centering on a hot-button issue: Religion, April 23 at 1pmSexuality, April 24 at 1pm; and Race, April 25 at 1pm. Additionally, Tania de Montaigne’s performance Noire, a theatrical adaptation of her eponymous book about the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., will be available to stream throughout the weekend. A live talk with Tania de Montaigne will take place on April 24 at 5pm. All programs are free to the public, and times are ET.

Both fundamental rights in France and the United States, liberté d’expression and free speech seem to be equivalent. Yet their definitions and applications differ markedly in each country, as evidenced by media coverage of recent events. Traditional, liberal-leaning American media often portray the French principle of laïcité (sometimes incorrectly translated as “secularism”) as a restriction on religious freedom, particularly that of Muslims, evidenced by the debates sparked by the assassination of French teacher Samuel Paty. And behind the freedom of morals, it suspects an underlying sexism, proof of which some American media find in the sexual harassment scandals in France that have recently been brought to light. Conversely, the French press is regularly shocked by American puritanism and communitarianism, which, some say, lead to censorship of free speech in the media, at universities, and in the cultural realm. Despite this deep intellectual friction, the seismic impact of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have been felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Emboldened to speak up, citizens of both countries have taken it upon themselves to redefine public figures’ legacies, leading to the rise of a so-called “cancel culture”.

Throughout this conference, writers, philosophers, journalists, and artists from France and the United States will try to understand and clarify misunderstandings of the respect of freedom and its limits in both nations, focusing on the subjects of religion, sexuality, and race.

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