Drake LeBlanc’s fight for French

Paul Breaux alum Drake LeBlanc
Drake LeBlanc, former Paul Breaux student and co-founder and creative director of Télé-Louisiane. Robin May

Update: The Legislature’s final adopted budget includes $250,000 for Télé-Louisiane, pending the governor’s signature.

Lafayette filmmaker and multimedia artist Drake LeBlanc is a product and advocate of Louisiana French education. The French multi-media organization he co-founded, Télé-Louisiane, is facing drastic cuts in state funding.

A graduate of Paul Breaux Middle School’s now defunct French Immersion program, LeBlanc went on to host a French radio show on KRVS, “Francomix,” which focused on the Francophone pop and dance scene. 

At the same time, LeBlanc, a self-taught videographer, was doing small-scale promotional work for local clubs and events. KRVS proved to be a natural fit for LeBlanc. There he met media industry players who prompted him to think about his future career plans with more intention.

“People would ask me well, you speak French. Aren’t you a French immersion student? Don’t you do any French video work? And I was like, no. I didn’t realize that was a thing, or could be a thing and Lafayette,” he says.

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The seed to produce Francophone content was planted by the time LeBlanc met his now business partner, Will McGrew. The two started Télé-Louisiane, a French multimedia company specializing in both production and marketing. 

“He was in school on the East Coast, and I was living on the West Coast at the time and we were both trying to find a way to come back home,” says LeBlanc. “And we decided to start this French media company that would just offer the typical services that a media and digital marketing company would normally offer, but we wanted to offer them in French.”

The program has since expanded to include its own French programming on LPB, the first in over 30 years, which has reached an estimated 10 million people world-wide according to the organization. Their French cartoon, Les Aventures De Boudini et Ses Amis, is the first and only of its kind.

Now, Télé-Louisiane says those programs are in jeopardy as state funding has been removed in the proposed budget currently working through the session. 

Télé-Louisiane says that neither of their programs will air as scheduled this fall without funding from the state. It would also render $110,00 in federal funds the show’s producers can receive as the grant invalid, as it it only eligible if matched by state funds. Additionally, Télé-Louisiane’s producers say that there is another $100,000 that they would not be able to receive internationally without the state’s matching funding.

Governor Jeff Landry has indicated support for efforts to preserve French in an interview with Télé-Louisiane, but made no definitive statements about where the state might stand on it: “In order to keep those things alive, we have to try to do our best to support that particular culture,” he says. “So hopefully we’ll see if we can continue to do that.”

As a boomerang, or someone who left their home states and came-back, LeBlanc is keenly aware of the state’s issue with brain drain and talent retention. Télé-Louisiane was a way for him to come back, but also to keep talented young people invested in the state. The potential budget cuts, he says, puts dozens of jobs in jeopardy.  

Still, LeBlanc says that he’s hopeful for the future because of how much support the organization has already garnered: “I have full confidence that regardless of what the turnout is, during this legislative session that with the support of the community, we can do any and everything. And we will.”