Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Less a documentary than an illustrated essay, Concerning Violence begins with a mini-lecture by a Columbia University professor on the significance of Frantz Fanon’s classic critique of colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth, which the film sets out to elucidate.
Director Göran Hugo Olsson, the Swedish director of The Black Power Mixtape, enlists Lauryn Hill to read chunks of the book in her strong, confident voice while her words unscroll onscreen in fat white type, so we don’t miss a syllable of Fanon’s coolly furious, pellucid prose. Hill’s intermittent voiceover is paired with 16mm footage shot by radical Swedish filmmakers in Africa of white colonialists and black anti-imperialist leaders and guerilla fighters during the Cold War era.
The archival footage captures some memorably raw statements and images, like the virulently racist white settler in a crumbling Rhodesia who bitterly complains about all the “Affies” who have the effrontery to think they’ll actually own their own cars and houses after the whites leave, or the Swedish business manager in Liberia who casually asserts that one of his African employees is “a very good boy”—and then has the man fired for having helped lead a strike, banishing his entire family, including a pregnant women and several small children, from their company-owned home. Even more brutalized is the gorgeous, sadly dignified young woman we see in a close-up that gradually pulls back from her beautiful face and elegant collarbone to show a right arm torn off above the elbow, leaving a ragged red stump. More heartbreaking still, a second zoom out reveals a matching wound on her baby’s right leg, which ends above the knee.
The lack of context in the archival footage occasionally dilutes the power of the images. It’s disconcerting to hear Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe speak so reasonably about how everyone will be welcome under his new regime without any acknowledgement that Mugabe turned out to be as power-hungry, and arguably as brutal and repressive, as the colonial leaders he replaced. But in the end, Concerning Violence makes a strong case for Fanon’s thesis that colonialism “is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.”
Written for The L Magazine