How Actress and New Wave Icon Jean Seberg Was Victimized by the FBI
By: Rylee Dahl
“Seberg” is a biographical film starring Kristen Stewart that was released on December 13 in select theaters.
Based on the true story of French New Wave icon Jean Seberg, the movie explores her tragic encounter with the FBI as they attempt to vilify her reputation on account of her affiliation with the Black Panther civil rights campaign.
Coming from an all-American childhood in Iowa, Seberg was revered as being innately compassionate and altruistic, aware of racial prejudices around her from early on. Not long after she left home to begin her acting career, she found herself in Paris as a part of the esteemed film “Breathless.” From then on, she remained in France for most of her life, traveling otherwise to shoot movies.
In 1968 while married to her second husband, Romain Gary, Seberg met Hakim Jamal, Malcolm X’s cousin, who introduced her to the African American activist party, the Black Panthers. Seberg and Jamal had an affair, and in its duration, she donated to the organization in various forms. Her association with the group led to the FBI’s involvement through their COINTELPRO projects.
The Counterintelligence Program was devised to discredit U.S. political movements through spying, sometimes consisting of illegal activities, in hopes to dismantle counter-culture rebels. The FBI sought to smear Jean Seberg’s name and in one attempt, spread libel to the press that lead to extreme tragedy.
While Seberg was pregnant with her second child, a slanderous article claimed the father of the baby was Hakim Jamal. She was so distraught and on edge that she gave birth prematurely only for her daughter to pass two days later. There was an open casket at the funeral to reveal the baby’s skin color as white. Since then, her husbands and lovers stated that her mental health deteriorated as the harassment continued. Later, the FBI admitted to intentional defamation of Seberg under the Freedom of Information Act.
Years later, at the age of 40, Seberg was found dead in the backseat of her car. She left a note reading “Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves.” Dying from an apparent overdose, the probable suicide remains mysterious as some of the details don’t add up—there is suspicion of foul play.
It’s a crushing and heartbreaking end to a successful actress who was only trying to aid the advancement of civil rights.