Readers may know Raoul Peck from his films I Am Not Your Negro, The Young Karl Marx and Lumumba. Now he has produced a timely four‑part documentary about genocidal white supremacy.
Its title, Exterminate All the Brutes, quotes from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, set in the Congo where Peck lived as a child. His father worked for the Lumumba government in 1960.
It encapsulates the imperialist attitude to those native peoples standing in the way of European land grabs.
The same phrase was used by Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist for the book that inspired much of Peck’s thinking in this film.
The Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing The Past—Power and the Production of History are also influences.
Surprisingly, given that Peck makes a point of saying it’s widely forgotten that revolution brought Haitian independence, he doesn’t mention CLR James’s book The Black Jacobins.
Peck’s looks at the displacement and extermination of Native Americans, the African slave trade, the rise of scientific racism, and the Holocaust.
He locates the origin of white supremacy in the 15th century Spanish Inquisition’s obsession with “clean blood” in its population, excluding Muslims and Jews.
But his suggestion, that Charles Darwin was complicit in the development of the racial classification of humans is crass. “After Darwin it became acceptable to shrug your shoulders at genocide,” says Peck.
Peck denies any bogus neutrality. His throaty, sometimes unclear authorial voice is explicitly partisan
He tears up the customary formalities of TV history documentary-making.
Firstly, he denies any bogus neutrality. His throaty, sometimes unclear authorial voice is explicitly partisan in commentary.
He includes home movie evidence of his family’s experiences. The soundtrack combines commissioned and borrowed music, with many quirky inferences.
Secondly, Peck deploys every manner of visual presentation. You’ll find archive documentary footage, contemporary drone camerawork, historical artefacts, paintings and photos.
There are cartoons, animated drawings and graphics, bold whole-screen text statements and slogans.
Josh Hartnett acts the part of multiple silent, murderous white guys in various places and times.
Peck finishes, “It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and draw conclusions.” But he doesn’t suggest what those conclusions might be.
More depressingly Peck argues that “Imperialism is a biologically necessary process”.
This absorbing work will leave viewers with plenty to think about, even get angry with. But it is not on a par with his earlier works, and certainly no masterpiece.