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Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death

The documentary unveils the colonial exploitation and brutality that the Congolese people went through during the colonial era, more so when they were under the leadership of King Leopold II of Belgium. Under Peter Bate’s film direction, it uses archival footage of survivor testimonies to search into the brutality of the rubber trade under Leopold’s leadership. The movie analysis focuses on examining the specific scenes of the film, relating them to insights of Green & Luehrmann (41-60) and Rodney (150) concerning Africa’s contribution towards the colonial period and the historical process that brought European colonialism, respectively.

Exploitation of African Labor

One of the film’s major themes is the ruthless exploitation of the African experiences under the European colonial powers, which is shown in minutes 00:10:00-00:15:00 of the documentary. The film shows the acts of brutality that the Belgians committed in the Congo Free State so as to extract rubber from the region. Workers were seen working under harsh conditions under the coercion of the Belgians, who were the overseers. The film scene aligns with Rodney’s (151) discussion on expatriating African surplus under colonialism. Rodney states that colonialism was not just a system of abuse but also a mechanism of taking back profits to the colonial powers. The film portrays how the Congolese workers were made to produce rubber for the King Leopold’s profit and other European capitalists, which reflects Rodney’s analysis of the extraction of the surplus that was from African labor.

Role of European Trading Companies

A second theme portrayed in the documentary is the role played by the trading companies in exploiting the African resources. Between minutes 00:25:00 and 00:30:00, the film shows how the King gave companies such as Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company concession rights to exploit Congo’s rubber resources fully. These companies applied brutal tactics to the extent of murdering some Congolese workers, with their main aim being to maximize profits. The scene is closely aligned with Rodney’s emphasis on how these companies, which got support from the colonial government, participated in the extraction of African wealth to benefit the European capitalists. The film emphasizes how the hunt for more profit made these companies commit brutal acts and use violence against African workers, hence reinforcing Rodney’s view of the exploitation of African workers during the colonialism period.

Resistance and Revolt

However, besides the oppression faced by the Africans in the film, minutes 01:05:00-01:10:00 in the documentary some moments of resistance and revolt from some of the Congolese. The film does not only portray the Congolese as victims of colonial brutality, as there are instances where some courageous Congolese have been captured, filled with the spirit of rebellion, manifesting various forms of disapproval and resistance. Some indigenous leaders gathered their courage to challenge the exploitation of the natural resources on their land. Armed with courage and honour for their land, they emerged as major symbols of resistance against oppressive regimes that supported the colonial oppressors. The scene captures acts of resistance, from small group protests to revolts by larger groups of the Congolese daring the oppressors. Although these groups faced a lot of brutality, they signify the unbeatable spirit of the Congolese people in the face of misery.

This segment in the film strongly aligns with Green & Luehrmann’s discussion of the resistance movement. In their analysis, Green & Luehrmann (41-60) searched through the diverse natures of resistance that the African communities applied in the struggle against colonial rule. Green & Luehrmann examined how resistance took shape in different ways, such as protests, armed upsprings and preserving their cultural practices, all of which acted as mechanisms for asserting agency against the colonial powers.

The Role of Indigenous Culture and Identity

In the film, various scenes show how the Congolese gave respect to their traditional practices and preserved their cultural identity even amid colonial violence. There are scenes where there are Congolese rituals and dances regardless of the colonial brutality 00:35:00-00:40:00, which showcase the importance of cultural practices as a form of resilience and resistance. The moments show the vibrancy and richness of this indigenous culture regardless of all the colonial efforts to eradicate them. In his discussion, Rodney portrays the importance of cultural identity in the struggle against colonialism, depicting that preserving these cultures acted as a means of asserting agency and resisting the deletion of African culture by colonial forces. These scenes create an insight into how cultural identity acted as a site for resistance against colonial expression.


The documentary about Congo reveals the oppression that the Congolese people went through during the colonial period after their leader collaborated with the colonizers to oppress them. Analyzing the different scenes in the documentary and contextualizing them against the insights of Rodney and Green & Luehrmann provides a deeper insight into the dynamics of colonial oppression and resistance during the colonial period. The movie analysis provides a broader view of the enduring legacy of colonialism and the continuous struggle for justice and liberation within Africa. The insights gained enrich our perspectives on the historical and modern issues of exploitation and empowerment.

Works Cited

Green, and Laura Luehrmann. “Colonialism and Resistance: Gold, God, and Glory.” Comparative Politics of the Global South: Linking Concepts and Cases, vol. [Volume], no. [Issue], Dec. 2022, pp. 41-60.

Rodney, Walter. How Europe underdeveloped Africa. Verso Books, 2018.


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