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“Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death”

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 10:29 am    Post subject: “Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death” Reply with quote

Revealing Africa’s Hidden Genocide

By Esther Iverem Editor and Film Critic

A horrible and shocking history is revealed in “Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death,” which has its theatrical opening on October 21 in New York City. The shock comes, first of all, from the fact that, between 1880 and 1920, as many as 10 million Congolese were murdered under the barbaric rule of King Leopold II of Belgium. Equally shocking is the fact that this macabre chapter of colonialism in Africa is so little known. As the movie’s narrator says at the start, “Until Adolph Hitler arrived on the scene, the European standard for cruelty was set by a King—Leopold II, king of the Belgians…”

In this low-budget but compelling documentary, director Peter Bate goes a long way to telling the history and filling the knowledge gap. Using a combination of narration, historical photographs, interviews with historians and dramatic reenactments, Bate details how Leopold used deception, trickery, torture and murder to rape the Congo of its resources, most especially rubber, for his personal enrichment and for the transfer of wealth to Belgium.

This wealth transfer to Europe from Africa may be a commonly known fact of colonialism but, as this movie shows scenes of burned Congo villages and the magnificent Cinquantenaire Park built by Leopold in Brussels, an abstract historical fact turns into a concrete and lasting reality. And a packet of those famous Belgian chocolates, in the shape of hands, becomes eerily reminiscent of the Black hands routinely chopped off of Leopold’s victims and kept as trophies by his employees and soldier mercenaries. Think of this film as a needed prologue for other cinematic efforts, including Raoul Peck’s “Lumumba,” which have allowed the Congolese people to tell their own history.

Unlike documentaries with access to troves of archival images, “Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death” relies more on the telling of history than the showing of it. The production reminds us of a time when photos and film hadn’t overtaken written accounts as the primary means of conveying important news. An African man, Bwitaka, testifies in 1904 of seeing in his village the corpses of those murdered, as well as severed male genitalia hanging on a line suspended by two poles.

Missionaries were an important source of documentation of entire villages massacred for failing to meet a quota for wild rubber or food for Leopold’s men, of women kidnapped and held hostage as a condition of their husband’s harvest, of children mutilated and murdered before their parents, of the rebellion by the Congolese people, who were turned back by rifles and guns. The carnage, said one missionary, Joseph Conrad, “was enough to make me wish that I were dead.”

Conrad’s testimony, taken from published accounts, is one of several done through a reenactment within what looks like a courtroom or museum chamber. A White actor with a pale complexion, beak-like nose and long white beard plays the part of Leopold, who sits silent and emotionless throughout the recounting of the atrocities. The effect of this set-up is mixed. While it does put us, literally, face-to-face with a certain banality of evil, it also takes us away from what we know is the real picture of Leopold and the other real people and places of history. On the other hand, this set-up might have provided an affordable way for the filmmaker to handle this history, which belongs to those who, finally, tell it.
Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death, October 21 - October 27, 2005, The Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street. $10. Box Office: (212) 255-8800 or online at

Last edited by childofoya on Fri Nov 04, 2005 12:55 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 11:48 am    Post subject: So Glad Reply with quote

Im so glad that finally something is said about the terrible things that happend there . I am half Congolese and my fathers family told me we had belonged to a royal tribe . In congo you have many tribes . Were from the Mutatela tribe . Anyways what happend is the people from Belgium had wanted to kill the whole royal family . But some of escape the masacere and survided . Know me and my family live in Europe we have a justed to the life her and live like normal people know . We never got back or belongings and status . So i am very glad that this story is told. Because we must remember al the lives that were lost .
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