Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
A Reign of Terror in the Congo Free State: Congo: White King, Red Rubber, and Black Death (2004): David Northrup
The European “Scramble for Africa” in the last decades of the 1800s was both rapid and underfunded. Sometimes, imperialists made use of superior firearms to gain control; often, they exploited fragmented African politics; everywhere they made use of African auxiliaries in establishing and maintaining control. In a surprisingly large number of cases private companies organized the imperial takeover in hopes of profiting from trade and resources. The Congo Free State exhibited all of these characteristics and became a notorious example of the worst failings of the European takeover.
Congo: White King, Red Rubber, and Black Death, a BBC documentary written and directed by Peter Bate, recounts the horrific events associated with the Congo Free State’s attempt to generate revenue from its giant colony. The king mentioned in the title is Leopold II of Belgium, who ruled the Free State as his personal possession until he was forced to relinquish control to the Belgian state in 1908. Red rubber was the natural latex that Africans were forced to collect, smoke, and turnover to Free State officials under threat of mutilation or death.
Overall, this is an excellent documentary, which will shock those unfamiliar with these events as deeply as the same revelations shocked contemporaries a century ago. The documentary makes use of early twentieth-century photographs of Africans being beaten and with stumps where hands and feet had been amputated for failure to comply with the Free State’s requisitions. It also includes excerpts from...
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