Saturday, August 29, 2009

King Leopold's Ghost

King Leopold's Ghost; Documentary, USA, 2006; D: Pippa Scott, Oreet Rees, S: Don Cheadle, Phillippe Bergeron, Adam Hochschild

The film chronicles the story about the so called 'Free Congo State': hiding his real intention under "philanthropic" motivations, King Leopold II of Belgium tricks explorer Henry Morton Stanley and the Berlin Conference into helping him put the large area of Congo under his de facto private possession in 1885. In order to exploit as much rubber, copper and ivory as possible, his soldiers placed millions of Africans as slaves who had to work under terribly inhumane conditions. Finally, after Leopold's death, Congo was handed over to Belgium as a "official" colony. Anti-colonialist Patrice Lumumba was executed in the 60s. His successors Mobutu and Kabila just stayed faithful to the Western interests exploiting the state.

Documentary "King Leopold's Ghost" may really be a little bit preachy, but the lessons it preaches are the ones that are rarely heard in the modern media - some of them are so rare that many viewers never even heard of them all. The shameful colonialist era, when the Free Congo State was ruthlessly exploited to the point that probably around 5 million Africans lost their lives to it, is analyzed systematically and objectively, avoiding to be pretentious for the most part. Since many records of that time were burnt by King Leopold II himself, it was hard for the authors to create a complete picture of things, and alas it seems some pieces are missing or were lost forever in history. However, with stock footage and shots of Congo, they still managed to get some sufficient insight into the film. The last third, that at first seems like a flaw, actually becomes a virtue in the conclusion - namely, it switches from Leopold's rule to the modern day history of Congo, including the bloody Second Congo War, sadly showing how explicit colonialism was replaced with a subtle colonialism, but the exploitation of Congo's riches still remained the same.


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