Jean Seberg, an iconic figure in movie history and the Nouvelle Vague movement, faced FBI harassment for her support of the Black Panther Party. Her life as an artist and activist has now been immortalized in a biopic featuring Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie, Margaret Qualley, and Vince Vaughn. Experience the film in German cinemas starting today or wait for its release on Amazon Prime, as it’s a production by Amazon Studios. Join us in our Throwback Thursday tribute to honor and celebrate her remarkable journey.
Seberg’s artistic lineage traces back to her grandfather, Edward Carlson, who arrived in the U.S. in 1882. Recognizing the abundance of Carlsons, he decided to change their last name to Seberg, inspired by the scenic water and mountains of Sweden. Poetic talent seemed to flow through the family, and it took a neighbor’s help to kickstart Seberg’s movie career. She entered a 150,000 Dollar talent search, leading to a turning point when, just a month before her eighteenth birthday, she landed the coveted lead role in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan.
Despite a highly publicized contest with around 18,000 participants, Seberg’s performance faced criticism from Variety and The New York Times, while other actors and actresses received praise. Tragically, during the filming of the stake sequence, where Saint Joan would be burned, Seberg sustained burning injuries from a gas leak-induced fireball. Reflecting on her experience, she expressed, “I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more. I was scared like a rabbit, and it showed on the screen. It was not a good experience at all. I started where most actresses end up.”
Despite facing critical backlash and commercial setbacks with her subsequent film, Bonjour Tristesse, Seberg’s breakthrough came three years later with her remarkable performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s groundbreaking feature, Breathless. Although she never starred in blockbusters, she achieved global recognition and suffered persecution from the FBI due to her financial and idealistic support for the Black Panther Party.
J. Edgar Hoover, the then-director of the FBI, personally ordered the surveillance of Seberg, making her one of the most notable targets in a larger campaign that ultimately contributed to her tragic suicide in 1979. Her second husband, Romain Gary, held a press conference shortly after her death, publicly accusing the FBI of her demise. He revealed that the FBI had spread false rumors, claiming her pregnancy was the result of an affair with a member of the Black Panther Party rather than her husband. These baseless rumors were published by numerous news outlets across the country. The stress and anguish caused by these fabrications led Seberg to premature labor, resulting in the birth of a girl who tragically passed away two days later. Her funeral, held in her hometown, featured an open casket, allowing reporters to witness the innocence of the infant, thereby disproving the rumors. However, it was only after her death that the FBI released documents acknowledging their defamation of Seberg, albeit attempting to distance themselves from such practices.
In her most significant movie success, “Breathless,” there’s a poignant dialogue: “What’s your greatest ambition?” – “To become immortal, and then die.”
Jean, you have achieved immortality.