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White King, Red Rubber, Black Death (2003)

Documentary about how King Leopold II of Belgium acquired Congo as a colony and exploited it by reign of terror.



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Documentary about how King Leopold II of Belgium acquired Congo as a colony and exploited it by reign of terror.

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Release Date:

2003 (Belgium)  »

Also Known As:

Valkoinen kuningas, musta kuolema  »

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Weaknesses in the delivery are totally masked by the material
4 June 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Leopold II was king of Belgium when he sought out countries for to colonise. The invention of a new type of tyre by a man called Dunlop made rubber a valuable commodity and Leopold found that the African nation of Congo offered him great riches and power. With great cruelty and greed, Leopold turned the country into one massive labour camp where the rubber was stripped with murder, amputation, mutilation and other unspeakable acts used to control and dominate the country. Between 1880 and 1920 the population of the Congo went from approximately 20,000,000 to closer to 10,000,000.

Although I was not entirely convinced by the methods of delivered used throughout this film, it is hard to find it anything but fascinating because it is an intense period of recent history that many casual viewers will know much about. When you consider that few people in the West (and I mean "normal" people) knew the true scale of what happened in Rwanda until Hollywood helped put a spotlight on it, it is not unfair to assume that few will know about the Congo over a hundred years ago. I have visited Belgium and viewed some of the great buildings etc that were built by Leopold off the back of his income from Congo and there is nothing in that country that I saw to tell me anything of this dark history.

And this is what makes the film so fascinating because it reveals the extent of this but also goes beyond to cover the way into Congo and how pressure from outside Belgium came to bare on Leopold as the truth started to come out into the world. The film does this very well because it would have been easy (and understandable) to have done nothing more than focus on the cruelty of the "civilisation" but just as shocking as how Belgium rewrote history just after the death of Leopold. The dramatisations were not always the strongest part of the film as sometimes they are damaged by the effect of having "Leopold" sitting there or having unnecessary music playing. However when the performance is good and it involves the individual just speaking without anything else to distract, it is powerful stuff. I have respect for Nick Fraser as one of the Storyville producers but as a narrator I'm sad to say that he is roundly poor – I just thought his voice was too flat and lacking distinction.

Overall though it is a fascinating film thanks to the good job it does in regards delivering this forgotten history in a clear and concise way. Not perfect perhaps but for the casual viewer the content will more than cover for these weaknesses.

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