African History Film Response
In the film Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death, the filmmakers endeavor to show how the nation known as Congo came to be. Like many modern African countries, Congo was originally divided into regions based upon the indigenous tribes who made the land their home. During this period, it cannot be honestly proclaimed that all was peace and cooperation between factions, far from it. However, things were far better during pre-colonialism for the native people of Congo than they would become following the expansion of European powers into the African continent. This film endeavors to remove the veneer that has been placed on events and show Congo’s history for what it truly was.
Many people suffered under the control of European imperial powers. In Congo, the oppression of the native population was decimated by King Leopold II who ruled Congo as a colony of his kingdom Belgium. Beginning in 1885, Leopold sent Belgian forces into Congo and extracted the land’s natural resources, particularly rubber. He claimed that the reason Belgium was invading Congo was to spread western ideologies, Christian faith, and modern technologies to a region of the world that the Europeans saw as uncivilized and backwards. His actual intentions were all to do with acquisition of land and abuse of the natural resources which could be found in that country in order to make money and make the of Belgium into a more powerful country in the process. Amazingly and horrifically, some ten million native people were killed during the in which Belgium controlled Congo.
Leopold was obviously not the only European ruler who set his sights on African territory, but he was far more severe and ruthless in his actions than many of the others. Much of the country was turned into labor camps where natives were enslaved and forced to mine and harvest for their empirical oppressors. Torture and murder were everyday occurrences and the death toll was higher than in the other colonies of the world.
At the heart of the film is the way that history has rewritten the events of the late nineteenth and in Congo. King Leopold has been written by some historians as a benevolent man whose intentions were purer than those of other imperialists. Christian historians in particular have helped elevate his reputation beyond the reproaches of truthful history and instead celebrate him as an icon, as an individual who tried to spread their version of the word of God to those who were ignorant of it before. If he happened to make money because of the resources available in Congo, then that was a nice addition, but that this was not the focus of the colonial expansion. Obviously, this is the complete antithesis of the truth where the horrors of the truth are echoed still in the modern period. The filmmakers explain this by showing how chocolate hands are a common treat in Belgium today but are modeled after the fact that young children who were late on their rubber deliveries would have their hands cut off.
In Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death the truth of African colonialism is made explicit. The filmmakers take what most people assume they know about this period in world history and truly educate them. It is an indictment of colonialism and of the way history tends to rewrite the villains based upon the moral and social perspective of the people writing those histories. What is most disturbing is that Leopold not only faced no serious repercussions for his actions, but that he tried to bury the truth, showing full well that he knew what he was doing was wrong as opposed to the misguided impression of some colonials that because they were white, they were somehow entitled to their atrocities.
Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death. (2004). YouTube. YouTube, 27 Oct. 2012. Web.
03 Apr. 2013.