Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death (2004)

By Rowser, Candice | Radical Teacher, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death (2004)


Rowser, Candice, Radical Teacher


Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death (2004), directed by Peter Bate, 84 minutes.

I am an Adjunct Assistant Professor at a few institutions (St. John's University, Kingsborough Community College, and Hunter College), where I teach history and political science. The curriculum for all of my courses includes film and, as a class, we view two to three films in the semester.

I have learned that film enhances students' understanding and makes historical events much more tangible for them. I require students to write reactions to or reflections on the films we view. One particular film I have had success with is Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death. I have used this film after lecturing on the "Age of Imperialism" for my Emergence of Global Society and European History courses, and on "Scramble for Africa" for African History.

Peter Bate's Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death presents King Leopold II's activities in central Africa during the late 19th /early 20th century and the atrocities committed against African peoples in the region under the ironic title of the "Congo Free State." Belgium embarked on a quest to join the ranks of major European powers like England and France through acquisition of a colony. Belgium's interest in central Africa included extraction of rubber to make bicycle and automobile tires. The documentary is done in a mock trial style as if King Leopold II were being tried for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. It flashes back and forth between archival material and courtroom scenes with missionaries, soldiers, and Africans themselves offering testimony. Though King Leopold II never went to the Congo, he orchestrated a system of forced, enslaved labor. He wrote letters to his agents, located in the Congo, urging them to "stimulate zeal" on the part of the male laborers. This "zeal" was encouraged through whipping, the mutilation of hands and feet, the pouring of hot oil onto the heads of people, the issuing of "hostage licenses" to hold men's wives hostage, and, ultimately, killing. In the forty years of the Congo Free State's existence roughly 10 million people were murdered, some villages losing 60-90% of their populations. Leopold II's activities were revealed reluctantly through missionaries who were in the Congo and through the vigorous efforts of Edmund Dene Morel, a former clerk for Eider Dempster, a shipping firm in Liverpool. …

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