“The forces involved here are less visible than gunfire, class property or political crusades, but they are no less powerful, ”Raoul Peck raises in his new documentary series. Exterminate all the brutes, which will premiere on April 7 on HBO.
The critically acclaimed filmmaker refers to the series of myths that make up white supremacy, the theme of the four-part series that explores the brutal methods and ideological justifications of Western colonization. In his latest project, Peck re-applies experimental techniques from his 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary about writer and activist James Baldwin, I’m not your black, to challenge our collective understanding of America as a powerful nation commonly labeled “great.”
Exterminate all the brutes is packed with accounts of historical events such as the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Anglo-Powhatan wars, and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, told bluntly and poetically by Peck, who is also the sole narrator as well as writer and director. Like its previous documentary, the series is also in conversation with the literature, film and other works of art that have influenced the denunciation or propagation of false narratives about colonialism and non-white populations, including the book of no Sven Lindqvist’s 1992 fiction from which the series takes its name (it is also a line from Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of darkness, mentioned in the series).
In the first part of the documentary series, titled “The Disquieting Confidence of Ignorance,” Peck speaks admirably of his late Swedish historian friend, who died in 2019, as shown in archive footage that he works in an office. Lindqvist’s desire and willingness to uncover the horrors of colonialism through a journey through the Sahara Desert, the subject of his acclaimed book, serves both as an inspiration for Peck in his current research and as a model for productive interracial relationships, if only for all whites. they were so eager to question their position in the world.
Likewise, Peck spends most of the documentary emphasizing the importance of knowledge the truth of white supremacy, particularly the use of genocide in establishing African and American colonies, rather than providing a roadmap to decolonization. This approach will likely appeal to viewers who are struggling with this issue for the first time and want to learn about important events in world history in a relatively short period of time.
It’s easy to imagine this series would appear on anti-racist viewing charts if it had premiered before the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. But for those who consider themselves knowledgeable about our colonial past and understand how these stories fit into current conversations about the removal of Confederate monuments or the end of capitalism or the abolition of the police, Peck’s claims throughout the series of that “we lack” “courage” to “draw conclusions” from the past, or that dominant historical narratives “need to be challenged”, as if he is one of the few who does so publicly, he may feel condescending and out of touch with him. work of non-white historians and current political movements led by people of color around the world.
That being said, I’m not sure if I would recommend Exterminate all the brutes for someone delving into the subject for the first time, despite the introductory nature of the series. Peck’s excursions through different time periods and parts of the world, not to mention the innumerable list of politicians and military leaders who are briefly mentioned and never spoken of again, are difficult to follow and even retain after a few minutes, as the series says. it moves from one invasion to the next without making connections between these incidents of violence. It’s especially disorienting considering that, in the first episode, Peck provides his audience with a set of basic terms that “summarize the entire history of mankind”: civilization, extermination, and experimentation. He doesn’t abandon these terms, but it would be helpful to viewers if he tried to categorize information in this way, as well as following the designated theme of each particular episode, from which he often deviates.
Peck’s experimental impulses, which are at least captivating, also get in the way of coherence. We are inundated with a wide range of movie clips from In the city for Raiders of the lost ark for The wolf of Wall Street, illustrations, animated maps and graphics that move at an unreadable pace, paintings, home videos of Peck’s childhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and fictional re-enactments. Many of these segments are accompanied by Peck’s monotonous voiceover which viewers may find irritating, as there are notably no talking heads. But it is the dramatizations in particular, mostly interactions between white settlers and black and indigenous people, that feel especially fruitless and out of place within the documentary.
“But it is the dramatizations in particular, mostly interactions between white settlers and black and indigenous people, that feel especially fruitless and out of place within the documentary.“
In the third episode, “Killing from a distance or … how I really enjoyed the excursion,” which begins to explain the role of weaponry in imperialism, we spent several minutes watching a fictional enslaved woman undressing a settler (played by Josh Hartnett ) and giving him a bath. After hearing a woman start howling outside, look out the window to see four murdered black men, Hartnett’s character has just been lynched. That’s the entirety of the scene, and it’s unclear what we’re supposed to extract from it in relation to the theme of the episode or as a stand-alone vignette. Likewise, the rest of the re-enactments are poorly conceived and endorsed, including an embarrassingly cliche reinvention of blacks enslaving whites. Others, with gratuitous graphic depictions of black and indigenous deaths, feel that Peck is holding hands with a particular section of his audience and ignoring viewers who do not need to visualize, say, an indigenous woman receiving a shot and experiencing additional gruesome violence afterward. his death to believe that such brutality occurred.
Amid all this clutter, fascinating images from Peck’s childhood in Haiti stand out, adding an element of intimacy and warmth to a rather bleak film. True, he was more interested in how Peck’s upbringing in Haiti (and later education in Berlin) shaped his worldview. In the second part of the documentary, he talks briefly about his fascination with the pomp and circumstances of Catholicism as a child and his disillusionment with religion after receiving a beating from a priest at his school. Peck touches on the interrelationship between violence and religion with respect to the Crusades and how Europeans labeled non-Christians as savages, but not in direct relation to this story, which remains a loose end. Still, Peck’s voice as a writer feels more confident and relaxed in these autobiographical parts of the film, whereas when he’s editorializing historical events, he can get winded and stiff.
In its early stages, Exterminate all the brutes it was reported to be a 15-part series. I can’t say if more time allocation would have helped Peck’s project feel more or less stuffy and cluttered. One thing that is certain is that it is impossible to expose the ugly truth of colonization without naming sexual violence as one of the main tools of oppression. Surprisingly, Peck’s documentary series only alludes to non-consensual relationships between white settlers and black, indigenous and Asian women (Lindqvist also fails to articulate the ramifications of gender-based violence in his book) despite the dependence of European colonizers on the rape to terrorize communities and defend slavery. . In the year 2021, this kind of oversight just feels like an erasure.