Exterminate all the savages, Raoul Peck’s series that the HBO platform premieres this Thursday, represents a journey into the heart of the darkness of colonization. The phrase that gives title to this series of four chapters, which is a documentary and at the same time a fiction film, is precisely taken from the classic by Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness on the genocidal conquest of the Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium. Another character of the great Polish writer expresses in a story, An outpost in progressThe same idea even more brutal: “Exterminate all blacks so that this country is livable.” Peck tries precisely to turn the way of narrating the history of the West, putting in the foreground what is ignored and that Conrad shows in his work: the implacable cruelty of colonization and slavery.
Of Haitian origin and living in France, the previous film by Raoul Peck, I am not your negro, had an enormous impact because he dealt openly with racism in the United States through the figure of the African-American writer James Baldwin. It premiered in 2017, when the movement Black Lives Matter (Black lives matter) spread across the United States, which has just inaugurated the presidency of Donald Trump, an undisguised racist. His new series comes to HBO when Trump is no longer in the White House, but it coincides with the trial for the death of George Floyd, the black man suffocated by an agent during his May 2020 arrest in Minneapolis. The case sparked protests against police brutality across the country.
The way of treating the slave and colonial past of the United States and Europe remains a complex and politicized issue, as evidenced by the first repercussions that Peck’s series has had, with some positive and other negative reviews, but that it has undoubtedly managed to remove consciences. “Europe is still in the denial phase,” explains Peck (Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 67) in a videoconference interview from France. “I would not put all European countries in the same bag, but, when we watch television or when we read the newspapers, I have the clear impression that a large part of Europe is in denial”, he adds. “When we allow ourselves to criticize a part of this past, it is always done with certain nuances. We acknowledge that yes, it is true, that we did it, but we are forced to explain it. And we think that this does not give the right to do this or to burn down the ghettos. So there is no real deep analysis of colonization. “
The series is divided into four episodes – the first two premiere on Thursday and the next two on Friday – that mix documentary images with photographs, but also with family films and memories of the director himself, who puts his voice in off, and with collages from other films. All this seasoned with cinematographic reconstructions, starring Josh Hartnett, which recreate different moments of colonization, from the slave trade across the Atlantic to the conquest of America or the extermination of the Indians in the United States. The presence of the same actor in different scenarios of Western imperialism tries to underline the fact that it is a question of the same history of brutality that continues throughout the centuries and of the countries.
One of the theses that the film supports is that Nazism and the extermination of European Jews by the Third Reich are part of a framework of thought that decrees the superiority of whites over the rest of the races – the idea of race is also a concept invented and contrary to science – that justifies any cruelty against beings considered inferior and not entirely human. In fact, Hitler never hid his admiration for the extermination of the Indians in the United States and the racist laws in the south of that country, which inspired the Nuremberg rules.
“The Holocaust is in the direct line of the genocide of slavery; it is part of the same European thought ”, says Peck. “It is the same idea, the existence of a superior race that claims the right to eliminate a supposed inferior race. It is part of the history of the conquering Europe and the Europe that is going to subjugate, which is going to be considered the center of the world ”, he emphasizes.
Peck’s films are almost always marked by strong political content: Young Karl Marx is a biography of the author of Communist manifesto; Sometimes in april it’s set in the Rwandan genocide; Lumumba recounts the life of the assassinated Congolese leader or the aforementioned I’m not your black, on racism in the United States, which was a candidate for the Oscar for best documentary feature film. He also has a career as an activist and became Haiti’s Minister of Culture between 1996 and 1997. Exterminate all the savages sums up all his facets, as a creator and as a politician. “It reflects my story,” he says. “It is what I have done in my adult life, documentaries and fictions, and this series reflects both, although everything that I reconstruct in film form is absolutely real.” A phrase by James Baldwin that he quotes in I am not your negro It also reflects the impact that this series aims to achieve: “History is not the past, it is the present.”
De Conrad a Seven Lindqvist
Joseph Conrad, the Polish sailor who thought in French and wrote in English, weighs heavily on the film because, as Peck explains: “He captured that moment better than anyone because he was a traveler. He did not write fiction: he writes what he has lived through and the atrocities he has seen ”. The series is also a tribute to the Swedish writer and traveler Sven Lindqvist, who died in 2019 at the age of 87. Borrow the title of one of his books, Exterminate all the savages (Turner), which he freely adapts together with other essays on the colonial world and slavery such as the now classic American Indian History (Captain Swing), by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.