In recent times there have been uncomfortable but absolutely necessary conversations about race in this country, sparked by incidents of police violence against unarmed black boys and men. There have been many voices – some calling for America and its apparent false promises of freedom and equality to be burned to the ground, others insisting that peace, nonviolence, and earnest attempts at compromise and reconciliation are they only way to move forward.
And so it somehow doesn’t feel coincidental that now, Goran Olsson’s “Concerning Violence” is out. It’s a documentary film that doesn’t speak directly to the events in Ferguson, New York, Mexico City, or Hong Kong, but still presents questions and ideas that apply to oppressed peoples here and across the globe.
Best known for 2011’s explosive “Black Power Mixtape,” Goran has here crafted a kind of adaptation of Martinique-born, French-Algerian writer and activist Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth.”
Highly controversial upon its 1961 publication, the piece argued that the only way to bring about revolution, the only true answer to colonization and oppression, is through violence. This concept is explored thoroughly in the documentary, with its nine chapters, its preface (featuring Columbia University professor Gayatri Chakovorty), and rousing conclusion.
Narrated by the clear, powerful voice of singer Lauryn Hill, the film sets Fanon’s own words, superimposed onto the screen in big white letters, against never before seen 16mm archival footage of oppressed rebel fighters in several African nations including Angola, Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Mozambique. The effect is striking – words condemning the colonizers of these countries juxtaposed with stark and brutal imagery: women and children with missing arms and legs, injured soldiers in the throes of agonizing pain, harrowing night time raids filled with seemingly never-ending gunfire.
But it isn’t just the physical violence done to these people that Olsson focuses on, but also the spiritual violence – there’s footage from Swedish documentaries of the 60s and 70s showing the colonizers expounding all kinds of despicable and dehumanizing opinions about the oppressed. One segment shows a Swedish missionary who has no qualms with expressing his disgust and disrespect for the Africans he has so benevolently come to save – to him, the only infrastructure they need or deserve is a new church.
Much like Fanon’s work, this is an at times dense and challenging film to get through – but its rewards are many, and deeply gratifying. The rewards being a deeper understanding of the reasoning behind violent revolution, a genuine look at the humanity of those who take part in revolution, and the chance to thoroughly examine why violent uprisings are so often thought of as irrational and unnecessary. “White people, stop mentioning MLK,” one Twitter user wrote as the recent protests in Ferguson reached a boiling point, “He was peaceful, and y’all shot him too.”
It’s obviously a matter of control. The concept of “peace,” the film via Fanon’s word suggests, is a huge part of that control. And while the film ultimately doesn’t leave off with any concrete answers about what to do going forward, its ideas and its indictment on the West are at the very least a catalyst for deeper reflection on the state of present-day Africa nations and other countries affected by colonialism and oppression. Steady, controlled, and unapologetic in its point of view, this film is required viewing in the current climate of unrest around the world.
The film arrives on DVD, May 5, 2015.
Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She
is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant
Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.