In my grade school history class, I remember my history teacher talking about the War of 1812. He spoke of “savages” and Tecumseh. It was in the late 70s, and I wondered what he was talking about, who were the “savages”? In high school, I did a study on Indigenous women and the unfair loss of their Native status if their spouse wasn’t Native (it was amended in 1985 to stop this exclusion). I was challenged by a white student who whittled Indigenous people down to weed-growing strains on the system. I can’t remember if my teacher responded since I was stunned, shy and had no words to respond myself. Then there was my black classmate who tore the teacher a new one and schooled everyone on slavery with his high school history presentation and a strange history teacher obsessed with Sumerians. That was the life of my history classes in school, and don’t even ask about university because I barely earned my Bachelors of Arts and got the hell out.
History in education has always had huge holes and biases. Unless you had a classmate who challenged teachers, parents who did homeschooling or a teacher who had the foresight to teach alternate history, you wouldn’t have learned much. Enter the pastiche of HBO’s latest 4-part documentary, Exterminate All the Brutes. Written, directed and narrated by Raoul Peck, the Oscar-nominated documentarian and filmmaker who gave us I Am Not Your Negro, his newest contribution comments on the work of the late Sven Lindqvist, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Harold Zinn and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Using these scholars and their writings, he takes us on an historical journey of European colonization, the extermination of Indigenous populations, Blacks, Jews, and people of colour, and the rise of capitalism because of it. He also uses Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” where the film’s title comes from, to illustrate the superiority complex white leaders lord over the modern world. It’s part speculation with dramatizations featuring Josh Hartnett as the white colonial everyman oppressor in reimagined scenarios, part essay incorporating film clips and popular music, and all history. It defies the boundaries of art and fact, bringing to light the historical atrocities distilled to create the society we live in now. With this unique vision, Peck teaches the sobering lessons white supremacy has hidden for centuries.
Some may feel overwhelmed with the facts and historical images of brutality faced in Exterminate All the Brutes. Some may feel there is still information lacking or that the documentary is too abstract; some may argue that a white view of colonialization isn’t the view we need, but I think ultimately, white people will be grateful that Black people and people of colour haven’t burned it all down.
See the AAFCA Roundtable Interview with Peck here: