Saturday, June 28, 2014
Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death 
NYT (M. Dargis) review
AVClub (N. Rabin) review
Slant Magazine (E. Gonzales) review
Village Voice (J. Land) review
Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death  (written and directed by Peter Bate) is an originally BBC produced documentary that I recently purchased at the 2013 Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival held recently at Facets Multimedia in Chicago. (As my religious order's annual Provincial Chapter conflicted with much this year's festival, instead of attending many of this year's selections, I purchased a number of films from previous festivals that they had on-sale at the showing, of the one film, Jews of Egypt  at this year's festival, that I did manage to see). The current film, is available for purchase on DVD at AfricanDiasporaDVD.com as well as Amazon.com.
Using several contemporary documentary techniques (that annoy some of the reviewers above) including some re-enactments and an IMHO quite interesting/compelling "courtroom" device in which late-19th century Belgian King Leopold II (fictiously) stands trial for crimes against humanity, Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death  certainly makes its point: What Leopold's henchmen perpetuated in HIS PERSONAL COLONY of the Congo conceded to him by the "Berlin Conference of 1884-85" (which he then had the gall to give the truly Orwellian name "The Congo Free State") was simply ghastly ... and arguably gave rise to the modern human rights movement.
So what did Leopold and his henchmen do? Well, as soon as he received title (from the other European powers, NO, ZERO, NONE AFRICANS INVOLVED) to the still largely unexplored Congo basin of Africa, he declared ALL VACANT LAND in the Colony "the State's" (that is HIS) and all work done on said "vacant land" could only be done "for the benefit of the State." So in effect, HE TURNED THE ENTIRE CONGO BASIN INTO A GIGANTIC LABOR CAMP WHERE ALL THE INHABITANTS BECAME HIS SLAVES. Having set this ground rule for the function of HIS PERSONAL COLONY, the colony was then organized TO SIMPLY EXTRACT the wealth of this region (and boy did it turn out to be phenomenally wealthy in natural resources -- in rubber, ivory, later gold, diamonds, rare-earth minerals, etc) FOR HIS OWN ENRICHMENT and (EVENTUALLY) Belgium's. His approach became A MODEL for the Czars, Stalin and Hitler when they came to build forced labor camps of their own...
The atrocities were appalling. Native inhabitants of the land, requisitioned for various extraction services (in the early years, mostly for the collection of rubber and ivory) who did not "meet quota" were simply shot, often several lined-up and shot with ONE SHOT together (to SAVE BULLETS), THEIR RIGHT HANDS CHOPPED OFF (and SMOKED, so that they would not decay...) AND KEPT "AS A RECORD." When the threat of CERTAIN DEATH was not deemed a "sufficient incentive" to make the laborers work, soldiers TOOK THE VILLAGERS' WIVES/DAUGHTERS HOSTAGE (having their way / VIOLATING them in the meantime...) while the men stuggled in the forests to collect their quota. AND ALL THIS WAS DONE UNDER THE VAINER OF BRINGING "EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION" (!!!!) TO THE CONGOLESE "SAVAGES." Such then was "the white man's burden" in the Leopold's "Congo Free State" ... a "burden" that ONLY PERHAPS a Nazi SS-Einsatzgruppen member or a Soviet NKVD officer tasked with machine-gunning Jews or putting bullets into the backs of the heads of "class criminals" could "appreciate."
This is an absolutely galling documentary but rightfully so. If Leopold II lived today, he'd certainly deserve a cell in the Hague next to Milošević, Karadžić and Mladić if not worse. Great documentary!
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