This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending a film screening hosted by the UTSC critical book club, the Health Student Association, and Taibu Community Health Centre. I heard about the event through one of my professors and an organizer of the event, Suzanne Sicchia. The film being shown was Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense. The film shows archival footage from various labour and anti-colonial movements in the 1950s and 1960s in various African nations, including Liberia, Mozambique, and Angola. The footage is overlaid with audio by the legendary Ms. Lauryn Hill reading various passages from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.
Fanon’s work is foundational to the field of post colonialism. One of the most cited and arguably notorious chapters of his work is the essay “On Violence,” in which he highlights the inherent violence of colonialism and how that type of systemic brutalization can only be disrupted through violence. At the time of publishing, his ideas were met with resistance to the extent that the book was banned in France. His work largely stems from his experience working as a psychiatrist, during which he treated Algerians suffering from French colonialism as well as French soldiers. Fanon became a supporter of the National Liberation Front of Algeria but unfortunately passed away from leukemia at age 36. The Wretched of the Earth was published posthumously.
I arrived at the event to see circular tables set up and a couple of students who I already knew milling about. The evening started with some light refreshments and food before the screening began. The film ran for an hour and a half, and we had been warned right after the Land Acknowledgement that the content of the film was graphic and could be disturbing. I was still not prepared for the extent of emotions I felt when watching the film.
The opening scenes included a preface of sorts by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak — another famous postcolonial thinker — and scenes of white soldiers shooting cattle from helicopters. As the film progressed, the violence depicted only grew more graphic. I was never compelled to leave, I was transfixed in my seat, unable to draw my eyes away from the screen. I like to think of myself as someone that is fairly versed in postcolonial theory and history. After all, I am from a country that only gained independence from England in 1956. I have grown up my whole life being taught, probably better than most, about the horrors of British colonialism and the effects it had on my country. Sudanese history is not absent from violence either, and yet, I was still very emotional. I felt a familiarity, I felt frustration, and ultimately I felt speechless.
And I was not the only one.
Hodman Abukar, a student in health policy, had similar thoughts. In a comment to The Varsity, Abukar said she liked how the film “brought the actual sights and sounds of African liberation movements… to viewers.” She continued that “having the privilege of never experiencing the kind of violence that comes with fighting for nation-state independence, it was hard in one instance to take in the explosion and gunfire depicted in the film.”
Alaa Rageah, a human biology and health studies double major, also attended the screening and had similar thoughts. She was “very appreciative” for the experience, but the film did leave such an emotional impact that she was brought to tears in some scenes.
Both Abukar and Rageah remain adamant that the content of the film and the topic of colonialism still needs to be taught in more depth. “Obviously I have been exposed [to the idea of colonialism] before, but I had never been exposed with such depth, though — everything I have learned has been at such a more superficial level,” Rageah said. Abukar added that “A lot of the course content in the social sciences could benefit from critical attention to post-colonial work, and how [post colonialism] can help us understand how we got to where we are today.”
When asked about the film’s graphic content, both Abukar and Rageah agreed that while it was emotional, it was a needed aspect of the experience. Abukar even took it a step further, saying that “an exclusion of some of the more graphic parts of the film would make for an ahistorical account of these movements.”
I find myself agreeing with them. We, as people living in the ‘West,’ can feel removed from the struggles of people in the global south today. Here as well, non-Indigenous people can feel removed from the current horrors of colonialism in these lands that we benefit from, let alone from the struggles against colonialism decades ago.
The film’s main message and the accompanying text explain how colonialism is inherently violent, and that by holding the colonized to a higher moral ground, you are complicit in the perpetuation of their further exploitation. This exploitation and brutalization are then shown to you, unflinchingly, bravely in the archival footage, and in return, it asks you not to look away. It’s shown to you so that you can confront the history and the sacrifices that were taken for resistance movements to flourish fully.
What better way is there to watch the movie than with peers and faculty who are experts on the topic? After the film was done, Professor Neil Roberts, an instructor from the Political Science Department and an expert on Fanon and Black Radical Thought, led a discussion. There was a treasure trove of questions being asked, from questions on the relation between post colonialism and disability justice to the historical contexts of Fanon’s work. The diversity of students in the room was a contributing factor to the depth of the discussion. Rageah noted that “being surrounded by people from different educational streams and backgrounds than me was enlightening.”
Ultimately, I think that’s the best word to describe the evening. The film screening and the discussion that followed were reminders of how challenging and rewarding it is to explore the histories, the works, and the stories of those before us.