Swedish director Göran Olsson examines the history of Africa’s liberation from colonial rule during the 1960s and ‘70s, as seen through the eyes of psychiatrist and philosopher Franz Fanon and his book The Wretched of the Earth. The documentary also features recently discovered on-the-ground archival footage of the civil rights uprising, which was shot by Swedish filmmakers during the struggle in Liberia, Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania, amongst other places. With narration from singer Lauryn Hill (The Fugees).
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: As he did so masterfully with The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 – which shed fresh light on the Black Panther Party that emerged amidst the counter-culture of the 1960s – so Göran Hugo Olsson works similar material from Swedish television to devastating effect in Concerning Violence, about the thorny issue of colonialism. The inevitable collapse of European rule in Africa carries with it an even greater risk: nations torn apart by brutal civil war, only to be ruled by corrupt military regimes. Yet the outdated alternative is as cruel and vicious. Anyone who believes Africa was better served by its former colonial ‘masters’ should think again.
Olsson has a lot of ground to cover. He shrewdly taps into the works of the controversial psychiatrist and writer, Frantz Fanon, a West Indies-born former soldier who fought France in the Algerian War of Independence, only to succumb to leukemia on the day his most famous work, The Wretched of the Earth, was banned by the French for its outspoken views on colonisation and its aftermath. Singer and former front woman of hip-hop group The Fugees, Ms. Lauryn Hill, as she is credited here, quotes Fanon’s pragmatic views on the necessary violent struggle of Africa to escape its colonial entrapment, her voiceover resonating like an irresistible rap and lending the film a contemporary twist. An additional Afro-jazzy score doesn’t hurt, either.
Much of what we see on screen has been gathered from the substantial archives of Swedish television which, as with the Black Power film, was fortunate to be on ground when some of the more extreme action was kicking off. We are thus privy to a nighttime raid on a Portuguese base by resistance fighters in Angola in 1974, who are welcomed by locals as heroes. The inherent racism of colonial Rhodesia (long since renamed as Zimbabwe) is illustrated by a belligerent white land owner and other related, so-called gentry. In Liberia, a mining strike is swiftly shut down by the corporation denying its workers basic rights. An even creepier chapter – there are nine, in total, each one longer than its predecessor – shows a married couple preaching the gospel, as missionaries. In each case, one gets the distinct feeling that the Swedish television crew recording these increasingly bizarre timepieces appear to be very much on the side of the oppressed.
Throughout it all, one is partial to a distinctly practical and level-headed view, rarely presented with such eloquence and clarity on screen: that of a downtrodden continent rising up to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. It is all the more shocking when one considers these events are relatively recent in historical terms, and that TV crews had the foresight to document it with such clarity, having evidently negotiated significant access. (At one point, Robert Mugabe is interviewed as well.) The film, which premiered at Sundance, carries with it a core message – that violence is an inevitable by-product of decolonisation – that is presented concisely, armed with a legitimacy that’s as startling as its content. It is a superbly executed document of a pivotal, inevitable era in 20th-century history.