Concerning Violence – Göran Hugo Olsson and the trouble at our door. (SFF Film Review)
Concerning Violence is now showing at the Sydney Film Festival.
“And it is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization a simply a question of relative strength.” ― Frantz Fanon, “The Wretched of the Earth”
It is a complicated task, understanding what each of our roles are as a force for change in the world. What does the white resident of a colonizing nation do, when confronted with a text like Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth? The French government of the day banned it immediately, cementing their place as perpetrators of violence, and further fulfilling the accusations hurled at the nation from the book itself. Sartre gave it an introduction, an endorsement, that came under its own criticism. Göran Hugo Olsson makes a film for the white man, trying to educate and inform those in the colonizing nations, of the war they were born into and yet try to pretend they are separate from. Concerning Violence is a film that even the “converted” will find challenging, as it is a call, not only for the European extended arm to be withdrawn, but that the riches stolen from the colonised nations be restored. it’s a startling demand for the settler to witness, even those of us who are open and sympathetic to the “cause”, but as the film progresses in its revelations, it becomes clearer and clearer how access to the lifestyles we enjoy in the West are stolen from those whose only reality is broken promises and the refusal of a fair day’s pay for a fair days work.
Concerning Violence begins with a small introductory piece from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, but moves quickly into archival found footage over which ex Fugee Lauryn Hill narrates transcripts from Fanon’s book, the Wretched of the Earth. Olsson divides the film into nine separate parts to give the sections of footage context, claiming largely that if the riches of that nation were taken by the force of colonialism, then it is its own demand for the people of the settled nation to rise up and take back their riches by a return use of force. It is a dialogue already started, and to assume the force of the settled people against the settler is somehow worse than the original act, is to ignore the perpetual and constant acts of violence used to keep the settled in their place. The manifestation of this violence is always poverty, but through Olsson’s footage or various insurgent activities, graphic clarity is given to the ongoing violence, literal in the case of striking mine workers in Libera (striking because they had not been paid) who are fired and displaced (removed from their homes) in the name of “keeping the peace.” Severe aggressive tactics are used constantly to keep the peace against natives who have not struck out first. These acts are justified through red tape (the striking workers hadn’t filed their requests to strike properly) rather than the issue of settlers not paying natives ever having to be addressed. Once the native is stripped of his job, his home and his community, left on the side of the road with his possessions and young family, his priorities change and he is no longer a legal, moral, or physical threat to the settler. Through Fanon’s words, we see that this is part of the institutionalisation of colonisation which is its own ongoing oppression. The native is removed from all the avenues to power, including the law, work, and education.
Sections of footage of white settlers openly expressing their hatred for natives in Zimbabwe (then Rhodiesia) filmed against a youthful Robert Mugabe declaring white privilege will be removed, are chilling in the context of violence as the only possible method of recourse of a colonised nation. A white Zimbabwe male, preparing to flee as the natives are taking back their power, claims his grandmother told her native servant that she will burn her possessions before she sees him lay claim to them. This is the violence Fanon speaks of so eloquently, one of the worst manifestations of which is the use of native armies and police forces to keep the natives from their own realisation. The power of the words above the footage of their manifestation are shocking, even for the most informed viewer.
Concerning Violence is cerebral viewing at its finest, expecting a highly intelligent viewer and taking advantage of that intellect. This is a film that is aware it is preaching to the converted, so it refuses hand holding or trite parallels to our current day. Equally so, it refuses rescue of the converted, calling instead for a kind of preparedness for the inevitable result of colonialism to take place – that is the arrival at our doorstep of those seeking to take back what we have stolen.