The world will certainly realize that one of the most interesting directors in the past 30 years is a Haitian by the name of Raoul Peck. He is now 67 years old. His first major feature, Lumumba, was completed and distributed in 2000. His 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro was nominated for an Oscar at 89th Academy Awards. But the commercial failure of Peck's brilliant historical drama The Young Karl Marx threatened to return him to obscurity right after the success of his James Baldwin doc. But for one reason or another, HBO brought the Haitian back into the light with what has to be one of the most devastating accounts of colonialism in mainstream media. It's called Exterminate All the Brutes. It has four parts. Each part exposes one of the levels of hell that white supremacy has imposed on much of the world over the past 400 years.
The message of Peck's documentary, which is not at all conventional, is simple and direct. The foundation of European global dominance is nothing but death. And lots and lots of it. And it could only be this way because what was not to be found in the New World or the Dark Continent was free land and labor. The colonial project would not have succeeded if it didn't confront the natural resistance to raw human-to-human exploitation with the full force of the Absolute Master, the name the 19th-century German philosopher Hegel gave to the fear of death. We still live in a world defined by this fear.
Indeed, one of the key features of Peck's documentary is it examines his own life (birth in Haiti, life in the US, career in Europe) against this historical background: the arrival of Columbus, the rise of the slave trade, the extermination of Native Americans. Peck understands from the get-go ("Part One" of the series) that his deepest identity will never be disclosed if he fails to explain the kind of world he found himself in as a boy. Why was there so much violence? Why was much of this violence tied to racism?
The history that explains Peck's black upbringing is also the one that explains why so many whites are now siding with the police officer who shot and killed Adam Toledo, a brown Chicago boy. He was a brute called "Lil Homicide." And brutes must be exterminated. The same goes with the growing white Christian support of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white boy accused of killing two protesters at a Black Lives Matter event: He was not the brute, but the people demanding police accountability certainly were.
How is this dangerous, white supremacist still on air? He's using a media platform to stoke violence and hate night after night. Shame on you @FoxNews! https://t.co/IrCQfogH0V
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) April 16, 2021
And now we have something called "replacement theory," which is a respectable sounding name for a feeling that has several roots, one of which is a puritanism that, in the heyday of capitalist slavery, was imposed on white women (not, of course, on white men). Another is the fear of Asians (the "Yellow Peril"). White Americans have been conditioned to dread racial impurities because the distinction between them and the rest was needed to maintain a social order structured by violence.
The title of Peck's documentary comes from a novella authored by Joseph Conrad, a late-19th century Polish-British writer. The novella is called Heart of Darkness. It was published in 1899 (peak European capitalism) and concerns an Ivory trader, Kurtz, who has fallen from the fantasies of that period, the Belle Époque, and hit rock bottom, the utter barbarism of the colonial enterprise.
But when Kurtz's mind was somewhat together, he wrote a report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. The narrator of the novella, Charles Marlow, has seen this report and read it. This is Marlow's description of it:
It was eloquent, vibrating with eloquence, but too high-strung, I think. Seventeen pages of close writing he had found time for! But it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might as of a deity,' and so on, and so on.
...This was the unbounded power of eloquence —of words—of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!'