Film

Concerning Violence Is a Devastating Essay of Colonization

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Göran Hugo Olsson’s profound essay doc aspires to upset in the truest sense. As its vintage footage of the cruelties of colonial life shocks and disgusts, its narration — excerpts from Frantz Fanon’s thundering 1961 text The Wretched of the Earth — demands that Western viewers fundamentally upset their conceptions of everything. A commanding indictment of the exploitative nature of geopolitics, and of Europe’s and the U.S.’s abuse of native peoples around the world, Concerning Violence pairs up hard truths from Fanon — Lauryn Hill reads his words, each blunt and burning like a cigarette she’s putting out in your ear — with damnable scenes shot in colonized countries in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s: In Rhodesia, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea, we meet local rebels and European soldiers, striking workers and the company stooges punishing them.

As the title suggests, viewers will bear witness to the results of violence that Fanon insists is the only recourse of the colonized. The guts of a Portuguese soldier pinken the Guinean muck, a terrifying but also inevitable image: Colonization, Fanon asserts, “is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.” Contrast the shots of the wounded soldier with the scenes here of napalmed Africans — a baby with a red-tipped stump of a leg suckles at the breast of a woman with a stub for an arm — only a monster would argue the colonized were wrong to fight.

But since death is so common on film, the images of war might not haunt as much as those of everyday African life
under European rule: beaming white folks, lawn-bowling in crisp shorts, laying out at the pool, attended to by native men and women who live in shanties and barely register to the oppressors as people. Happy Christians in Tanzania explain all the good they’re doing, as black men dig ditches all around them: First these
missionaries will oversee the building of a church, where they’ll disabuse the Africans of long-held beliefs. Then, if everything goes well, they might bother with a school and a hospital. The assumptions of patriarchal superiority are chilling and familiar — these people assume they know exactly what the Africans need, how they should live, what they should accept and what they should wait for.

That’s not a precise match for the troubles afflicting our own country today, but at times this rousing, despairing film plays like a parody of them: There are revelations here for everyone, but this definitely should be seen by every white American who shares MLK quotes on Facebook to tell black Americans to stop protesting.