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January 5th, 2005 David Walker | DVD & TV
 

The Anti-Colonialism Double Feature

     
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Hotel Rwanda is not the first film to deal with volatile issues in Africa. It is, however, one of the few that chooses to cast a black person as the main character, rather than focusing on white people (like such films as Cry Freedom or Tears of the Sun). Here are two films dealing with colonialism in Africa that you may never have heard of, but that are well worth seeing.

Black Jesus (1971)--Tracking down this lost classic may not be easy, but it is available on DVD. Originally released in 1968 as Seated at His Right, and then re-released under this more "urban"-friendly title in 1971, Valerio Zurlini's film is a powerful indictment of colonialism. Woody Strode stars as Maurice Lalubi, a soft-spoken leader who preaches peace and love in an unnamed African nation that is clearly the Congo. Lalubi speaks out against the white, Belgian army that occupies his nation and brutalizes his people. As the film opens, Lalubi is betrayed by one of his followers, and the leader is soon in the custody of the military, where he is tortured as his final fate is decided.

A former football player and professional wrestler, Strode became one of the first true black action heroes when he was "discovered" by director John Ford, who used him in films like Sergeant Rutledge and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Strode gives a powerful performance as the doomed African leader, his gigantic stature offset by his gentle nature.

On the surface, Black Jesus comes across as a thinly veiled attempt at setting the story of the last days of Christ in contemporary Africa. But for those who know a bit about modern African history, there is another story the film closely mirrors. Zurlini's film is actually inspired by the life of Patrice Lumumba, the outspoken leader of the Congo who was assassinated in the 1960s with the help of the CIA. Director and co-writer Zurlini does a great job fusing the deaths of Christ and Lumumba into a powerful metaphor about colonialism.

Lumumba (2000)--Speaking of Patrice Lumumba...you'll want to brush up on the history of the Congo before sitting down to watch Lumumba; otherwise, the intensity of the film may be lost in your confusion. Eriq Ebouaney gives a dynamic performance as Lumumba, who, at age 36, became the first prime minister of the Congo after decades of Belgian rule. Lumumba's tenure in office would last only two months, before he was dragged into the countryside and executed. Director Raoul Peck's re-creation of the Congo during the volatile political change that occurred in the early 1960s is brimming with detail and tension. The script (written by Peck and Pascal Bonitzer), however, does ask for a lot from anyone who is uninformed as to the real-life history surrounding this story. But Lumumba is still a powerful film, even if you are plagued by some historical illiteracy.

 
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