A visual poem on the sinister violence of colonisation, Göran Olsson’s Concerning Violence appeals for a new kind of future for Africa.
Independence Day by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Harvesting the same Swedish television archives that provided the footage for Göran Olsson’s powerful documentary Black Power Mixtape, Concerning Violence shifts the fight from Harlem to sub-Saharan Africa, as journalists from a positively neutral Sweden travel around Rhodesia, Tanzania, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola during the Sixties to report on the armed struggle for independence. Alternately terrorists or freedom fighters, images of these native revolutionaries are interlaced with footage of white colonialists defending their “homeland” and safeguarding their very European democracies. But accompanied by excerpts from Martinique-born Frantz Fanon’s heated text on decolonisation The Wretched Of The Earth and voiced by Lauryn Hill, these Nine Scenes From The Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defence, as Olsson’s film is subtitled, create a stirring assortment of music, text and image that allows the mind to rage.
Preface: Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, credited with founding decolonisation theory introduces Frantz Fanon, Olsson’s archive footage and the gender politics of independence. 1. Decolonisation: Archive footage from inside an Army helicopter, a soldier picks off cattle with a machine gun. 2. Indifference: A young South African professor recalls the emptiness of liberation after a prison sentence. 3. Rhodesia: A white farmer in Zimbabwe describes his involuntary move to South Africa, while Robert Mugabe describes his vision of Zimbabwe’s future. 4. A World Cut in Two While white teenagers play golf, blacks servants contemplate their world hungrily. 5. LAMCO, Liberia 1966: A strike at a Swedish factory sparks a violent governmental crackdown with unwanted workers dumped outside the depot gates. 6. That Poverty Of Spirit: Swedish missionaries are interviewed about the colonisation of Christian values. 7. The Fiat G.91 (FRELIMO): An amputee mother struggles to breastfeed her baby while female freedom fighters from the Mozambique Liberation Front talk about gender equality in the independence movement. 8. Defeat: An embedded TV crew graphically exposes the Portuguese casualties of war in Guinea Bissau. 9. Raw Materials: Europe stuffs itself full with natural resources plundered from Africa. Conclusion: An exhortation for Africa not to mimic European-style democracies, but to forge its own path, with man not wealth at the centre.
From the opening sequence of a soldier opening fire on a herd of cattle, Göran Olsson’s clarion call to arms is clear – the coloniser’s violence is senseless and brutal. It’s a chilling sequence which extrapolates the violence of the colonial oppressor out of the everyday struggle for supremacy and control into a more structural, ruthless straitjacket – to force the native, through hunger, fear and inferiority into submission – overawed by Western notions of democracy, capitalism and wealth. The native, as Lauryn Hill intones, reading from the inflammatory texts of Fanon, envies the settler, imagining himself in his place, sitting at his table, with his house, servants and wife. But it’s a will to power that destabilises the colonials’ empire, built as it is on exploitation of the natives’ resources and the subjugation of the colonised. He may bring his highfalutin’ European notions of equality, but it’s all look-but-don’t-touch, as a miners’ strike in Liberia bears witness, with Robert Jackson sacked for incendiary behaviour and his family escorted off the premises and into the dark night. The white colonials’ treatment of the black natives is miles apart from the strikes and uprisings in Paris and London, the colonised denied even their right to resist.
So when non-violent protests fail to bring about change, it’s only natural that these independence movements should reach for the Kalashnikov. Isn’t it? Even-handed and dispassionate, Olsson allows the images and excerpts from the opening and closing of Fanon’s text to speak for themselves, arguing through his voice-over and images that the violence is two-way – the armed fight for freedom an equal response to the structural violence of colonialism. But with haunting and violent images – such as the black Venus de Milo, without an arm but breastfeeding her mutilated baby, or the Portuguese soldiers suffering and dying despite their military might – Concerning Violence reconsiders the violence of terrorists, and allows us to come to our own conclusions about the inevitably drawn parallels with contemporary terrorism.
Concerning Violence culminates in Fanon’s urging to find an alternative to the brutal capitalist democracies of the Europeans, and for independent African nations to find their own path, not to copy the European model, but to create, from the ashes of decolonisation, an improved society – more interested in the health of its citizens than the wealth of its ruling classes. And Olsson’s three elements – archive imagery, Fanon’s texts and Lauryn Hill’s voice – work together to stunning effect. Exploding in a rich culmination of faces, stories, thoughts and ideas, Concerning Violence is a beautiful bomb – dropped from a lethal height.
Concerning Violence is released on 28th November 2014 in the UK