Violence is scary. It’s hard to watch. This was my first thought about what the actual experience of watching Olsson’s documentary based on the essay by the same name in Frantz Fanon’s book ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (1961) would be like. Violence is hard to watch. But this film, pieced together from archive footage and voiced by the lyrical genius that is Lauryn Hill, is about coming to terms with the violence that is “in every corner of the earth”. It is not a spectacle; it’s a fact.
Concerning Violence charts documented stories from the 60s and 70s about the struggles of natives in Zimbabwe, Guinea, Mozambique, Congo, and South Africa to free themselves from colonial rule. There is no denying the rawness of what we are being shown: even through the colonial fuzz of a European lens, the unsoftened truth of the invasion and oppression is apparent. Why was it so important for Olsson to use archive footage and not film examples of colonial legacy and terrorism today? “If you can’t do the maths then you never will be able to”, he said. “It’s on the news everyday. This is a film about why this is happening, not where specifically now.” By taking us back, there is no burying your head in the sand to be done.
“We need to create a new human being”, says Hill (Fanon), her steady, honeyed voice very calm and sure of itself. The film is all about a time for change and movement, not passive protest. Contrary to criticism, it is not a project inciting violence but validating its necessity via undeniable evidence in this neocolonialist time. In matters of oppressor and oppressed, relative strength is the only thing that matters; whoever successfully exerts their strength over the other claims victory. And it is this fact which validates the necessity of the oppressed to re-claim dignity as their right and overthrow history to reassert balance, says Olsson.
Violence as a means to equality is a subject that needs to be publicly addressed, not immediately discarded, and having it as the central issue of this film was refreshing and challenging. Hands shot up in the audience as soon as the floor opened for questions, and a charged conversation ensued, often sparking controversy, or laughter. For me, these were the main points that rose from Olsson’s answers:
- The beggar mentality of foreign aid needs to go. The third world doesn’t want to sit with its hand open, but needs to unite and find its own conviction and empowerment. There needs to be a sense of community in the people as they realise that equality is their right, not something to give thanks for. They deserve retribution.
- Something’s got to give. Protesters are getting younger and younger, taking note of things, and you can feel a change to how seriously they are being taken all over the world. Instead of attacking each other, and giving the top percent a reason to call them an uncivilised people, they (we, you) are attacking the corrupt ingrained system of white supremacy. ‘Concerning Violence’ attacks the issue from the roots.
- Do not be discouraged from your own critical thinking. Apply logic and don’t accept the media for truth. You have your own mind – don’t be blindly led to any given truth. And then, if you’re unhappy, go out and join protests. They work!
- Structural Violence is a self-perpetuating circle and we must realise this. We can’t write it off in one breath and with the next order attacks on the middle east. This is illogical: think about it. It also resonates to domestic violence.
Where do we go from here? “I’m just a filmmaker” said Olsson, sparking laughs from which was a totally serious comment. He’s not a politician but he’s using his skills to bring truth to millions. He wants people to download the film, go out and react, making their own, and thinking about systems which have been in place for so long they feel natural. “Sorry Dogwoof!” he says sheepishly, apologising to his distributers who have helped to bring the film to nearly 30 countries including 7 in Africa. You can’t try to restrict a passionate Swedish filmmaking protestor with illegal download laws…
The Final Word: If Lauryn Hill narrates something, you know it’s going to be full of soul and meaning