Tuesday, May 18

‘Sometimes it’s shocking’: Raoul Peck on his bold new series on colonialism | US television

TReally, what else was there to say about race in America after James Baldwin’s words? This is what Raoul Peck found himself contemplating after the success of his 2016 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, which was nominated for an Oscar and won an Emmy, a Bafta and a Caesar. He was confused and disappointed to realize that some audiences, particularly in Europe, were not fully understanding the work of what he calls “one of the best, if not the best analyst of what racism is,” believing it to be mainly an American. concern.

“I wanted to show them that they were wrong, that in fact is it so the origin story and that racism in America is just the continuation of a long history of Eurocentric domination, “he told The Guardian by phone from Paris. “If Baldwin’s words are not enough to understand what this is about, what else can? I felt the need to go even wider into the history of racism and white supremacy. “

His new HBO series Exterminate All the Brutes is an extensive journey through some of civilization’s most horrible moments during the last half millennium to trace the roots of humanity’s worst impulses: genocide, slavery, fascism, white supremacy, colonialism. Written, directed and narrated by Peck, the four-hour series (shortened from 15 episodes) is based on the ideas of three seminal texts: Sven Lindqvist’s Exterminate All the Brutes (examining the genocidal colonization of Africa in Europe), An de Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz History of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States (the country’s first history told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples) and Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot (an analysis of power and silence in history, centered in the history of Haiti). The work of all three authors, which are credited in the initial titles, serves as the pole star in the same way that Baldwin did in I Am Not Your Negro.

Peck spent three years assembling an astonishing battery of images, including stock footage, movie clips, infographics, historical and ephemeral documents, photographs, artwork, scripted interludes, and animated scenes. (Talking heads are clearly missing.) The result is a discursive collage of rare ambition that connects injustices and atrocities from the Spanish Inquisition (when the notion of biological race was born) to Christopher Columbus, the transatlantic slave trade, the Removal Law. of Indians, the Alamo, the Congo Free State, the Battle of Omdurman, the Nazis, Hiroshima and the presidency of Donald Trump, weaving the micro with the macro, personal stories with mass culture, history with contemporary life and fiction. As Baldwin himself said: “History is not the past, it is the present.”

And the personal: Peck also tells his own traveling story, through family snapshots, Super 8 home movies, clips from his own movies, and serious storytelling, drawing on his distinctive experience as someone raised in former colonies (Haiti and the Democratic Republic). of the Congo) that has now spent many decades in the colonizing nations (United States, France, Germany). “I am an immigrant from a shitty country,” he says of the images of his family, smiling, calmly.

References to Trump are many, but Peck says he did not intend to speak to our particular age or to a specific audience. “I don’t go about my job looking for the right moment. On the contrary, my work is always from a very organic point of view. I just follow the vibrations around me. There is a limited amount of film that I can probably make. I make sure my films survive the test of time. And to be honest, I don’t care if the movie is well received or not at the moment. It’s about, will it be possible for young people in 30, 40 years to find that movie? You can find some materials to use in your own fight. “

That attitude emboldens him to highlight groups and events that have been silenced in history and interrogate what he sees as taboo subjects, such as settler colonialism, whereby settlers violently replace indigenous peoples and then use the land in perpetuity. . “Everyone must acknowledge that America’s history began with genocide,” says Peck. “Until you can do that, nothing makes sense.” He believes this is the first time such concepts have been outlined in a movie. “I don’t know of any other movie that expresses it so clearly and strongly. It’s like a no-no in America: you don’t play with their origin story. Clearly there have been great differences between immigrants, refugees and natives. They decided to call it a country of immigrants, but it is not ”.

The selected movie clips are an indictment of the role of cinema in the spread of these myths, ranging from Apocalypse Now to Tarzan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Gangs of New York, The Last Samurai and even the 1949 musical On the Pueblo. (Peck has admitted that it was challenging to secure the rights to some of these clips given the context.) Many literary classics are also classified as evidence: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, The Time Machine, and HG Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Killer of deer by James Fenimore Cooper. Like baldwin Put it on: “We have made a legend of a massacre.”

A still from Caisa Ankarsparre in Exterminate All Brutes
A still from Caisa Ankarsparre in Exterminate All Brutes. Photograph: HBO

Taken together, the series is a strident deconstruction of Western narratives, both popular and academic, prompting audiences to probe its assumptions. And some of the most challenging moments are scripted or ahistorical dramatizations: a black priest encounters a group of white children who are chained and beaten in a jungle; a white photographer snaps at Congolese rubber workers whose hands have been cut off for a portrait; a 19th century scholar lectures on racial hierarchy to the mockery of a modern, multicultural audience. “I had feelings, emotions, experiences that were very difficult to convey through normal means, but I knew I could do it in fiction,” says Peck of these sequences. (Actor Josh Hartnett, who has portrayed several all-American archetypes in his career, was the director’s choice to play an ordinary white killer throughout history.)

Some reviewers they have criticized the series’ relatively brief mentions of sexual violence as a tool of colonization, a reading that Peck calls “very superficial.” “To me it’s exactly the tribal attitude that people have now,” he says, raising his voice in irritation. “They just see their own little story. Sorry, this story is bigger, and that’s exactly what I usually do, include everyone, not to say your story is more important. “

The series is likely to provoke most viewers in some way, and Peck admits that it is a job that demands active participation. “The film is very dense, but I leave space for you, as an audience, to find your place, to bring your own experience, your own emotion, your own reflection. Sometimes what is happening on the screen is shocking, but there are times when you can come back to yourself. It doesn’t leave you out. “

After all, as Peck says in the movie: “It is not knowledge that we lack. What is lacking is the courage to understand what we know and draw conclusions ”.


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