Living at the Movies: Concerning Violence
The filmmaker behind The Black Power Mixtape is back with a harrowing look at violent anti-colonialist resistance in Africa
If you’re going to author a book as upsetting to the global status quo as The Wretched of the Earth, you might consider following psychiatrist Frantz Fanon’s example and dictate it from your near-deathbed. The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon’s third book about colonialism’s dehumanization of native peoples, draws from his experiences as a native of the French-colonized Caribbean island Martinique (the subject of his first book, Black Skin, White Masks) and as a member of the National Liberation Front during the Algerian revolution (the subject of his second book, A Dying Colonialism) to paint a vivid portrait of the exploitative colonialist system on which capitalism continues to depend. Fanon left no doubt about the means by which oppressed people have most often successfully extricated themselves from such unwelcome conquistadors: violent revolution. Not surprisingly, the French government—in the midst of losing the war in Algeria—banned The Wretched of the Earth upon its publication in 1961.
The book, however, went on to inspire revolutionaries and civil rights leaders around the world, with translations in more than 16 languages. But the documentary Concerning Violence (named for the book’s first and most controversial chapter) by Swedish filmmaker Göran Olsson may be the most effective medium for presenting Fanon’s words, superimposing them over scenes of oppression and revolution in colonized Africa. Narrator Lauryn Hill gives humanity to Fanon’s hard-learned wisdom, which often appears on-screen to punctuate what the film’s subtitle calls “Nine Scenes From the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense.” Repurposing interviews and other footage shot for Swedish television in an evolution of the technique used to compile his highly recommended 2011 documentary The Black Power Mixtape, Olsson lets revolutionaries from the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) tell their own stories with no further exposition than Fanon’s excerpts, leaving the viewer to make connections between the two.
Opposing viewpoints—such as that of the Europeans appalled at the native “Affies’” desire for cars and homes of their own, of the missionaries who prioritize building a church over schools or hospitals and decry polygamy as immoral though they can offer no biblical proof, or of the factory owner who justifies use of lethal military force against striking workers by accusing the labor union of unfair negotiation tactics—are also presented with no further commentary, but, if anything, these hard-to-swallow interviews illustrate Fanon’s points even more powerfully than interviews with well-known African anti-colonialists.
The Black Power Mixtape contains a segment with civil rights activist Angela Davis (who called Fanon “this century’s most compelling theorist of racism and colonialism”) that merits repeated viewing for anyone wishing to further understand situations like the long conflict between police and protestors in Ferguson, Missouri. Long imprisoned on conspiracy-to-murder charges for which she was eventually acquitted by an all-white jury, Davis is utterly baffled by the suggestion that she—the victim of an oppressive, racist system that evolved only slightly from the days of state-supported slavery—should condemn the violent actions of her fellow victims against their oppressors. Along with her bemused incredulity, her harried demeanor and haggard appearance speak volumes about the toll being forced out of a professorship by then-California governor Ronald Reagan and being categorized as a “dangerous terrorist” by then-president Richard Nixon took. Concerning Violence uses the same show-don’t-tell approach on a much larger scale, letting images of burnt-down schools and legless infants illustrate the path to insurrection.
“A riot,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., “is the language of the unheard.” Concerning Violence is an irrefutable reminder that European settlers (and their rebellious offspring) opened this conversation centuries ago with some of the worst atrocities in human history, and the debate sadly hasn’t changed too much since then.