Hollywood Will Produce Films About African Warlords, but What About European Colonial Genocide?

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Beasts of No Nation film still. Photograph: PR
“Beasts of No Nation” film still. Photograph: PR

The latest film released by Netflix is called Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba and directed by Cary Fukunaga. As reported in The Guardian, in the film, which covers the brutalization of child soldiers, Elba portrays a warlord in an unknown, fictional African nation. In the film’s trailer, Elba’s character encourages a boy (played by Abraham Attah) to kill a captured enemy soldier.

Beasts of No Nation provides a poignant example of the power of the media in shaping images of reality and molding public opinion, whether through the actual stories portrayed in Hollywood or the images that they decide to leave out. For example, we have seen countless stories such as The Last King of Scotland, a 2006 film starring Forest Whitaker about the former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.  And there were the films about the Rwandan genocide, such as the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda or the 2005 movie, Sometimes in April. There is no question that the people and events described in these films are atrocious, but it is also just as certain that such films are created as Oscar bait and balance and diversity are lacking in which films Hollywood chooses to make.

The problem is Hollywood films will chronicle brutality and genocide only when perpetrated by Africans against other Africans, or by the Nazis during World War II, in which 6 million Jews and 11 million others were viciously exterminated. Meanwhile, how many times have we seen stories about the European colonizers in Africa who made it their hobby to carve up Africa like an apple pie, splitting up countries and creating tribal and civil wars in the process?

Hollywood needs a docudrama or miniseries about Cecil Rhodes, who is often viewed as a prominent British business leader and South African statesman, but in reality was a cruel white supremacist who slaughtered an entire population to clear the land and used forced labor as a basis for the founding of De Beers and the other facets of his empire.  In his will, Rhodes wrote that “[Anglo-Saxons] are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world [they] inhabit, the better it is for the human race.”  The imperialist also said “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa,” and he would always “prefer land to ni**ers.” Through a land grab, whites stole gold and diamond from African people, enhancing their own wealth while displacing Blacks and enslaving them in their own homeland. And it began when Rhodes introduced the Glen Grey Act in 1894, which removed Blacks from their native lands in order to make way for industrial development.

In addition, there should be a film chronicling the horrors of the Middle Passage, in which millions of Africans were kidnapped and placed in floating dungeons across the Atlantic, many finding their final resting place at the bottom of the sea.

King Leopold II of Belgium amassed huge amounts of personal wealth by raping and exploiting the Congo, at first by harvesting ivory and rubber, and then by forcing villages to meet quotas of ivory collection under penalty of amputation of their hands. Leopold enslaved, beat and mutilated the Congolese people, and ultimately killed an estimated 15 million people.

Under British Gen. Sir Evelyn Baring, the British Empire declared war on the Kenyan people, for the purpose of stealing their rich land. As a result, the British executed, tortured or maimed 90,000 Kenyans and detained another 160,000 under deplorable conditions.

For years, Australia engaged in a policy of annihilation of the Aboriginal population, which dropped from 1 million to 100,000 123 years after the arrival of the British. Between 1804 and 1834, the Aboriginal population of Tasmania was reduced from an estimated 5,000 people to just 200, and between 1824 and 1908, approximately 10,000 Aborigines were murdered in the Colony of Queensland, considered vermin and wild animals that were hunted for sport. Further, an official state policy forcibly removed 100,000 Aboriginal children from their families between 1909 and 1970.

Between 1904 and 1908, under colonial rule, Germany exterminated 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama people in concentration camps in Namibia, which was then known as German South West Africa.

There is room for all stories to be told. We must remember genocidal atrocities and crimes against humanity wherever they occur, to serve as a lesson that we must never forget the lessons of the past. The problem is that only a handful of these stories are being shown on the big screen.

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