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The Fanon Phenomenon: Documentary Unearths Africa’s Anti-Colonial Struggles

Kazembe Balagun Dec 16

Concerning Violence
Directed by Göran Hugo Olsson (2014)


Frantz Fanon, the Caribbean psychiatrist-turned-revolutionary, knew a little bit about sampling. As the main theorist of the Algerian liberation movement, he dug into the crates of Marx, Hegel and Freud to recast the darker nations as the center of the revolutionary process. Fanon saw a dialectical interplay between fulfilling the egalitarian ideals of the Enlightenment and the affirmation of Black and brown people. This dedication led him to spend his last years in Africa struggling against colonialism and writing the seminal texts Black Skins, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth.

Funnily enough, his echo is reverberating not in Algeria, but in Sweden. While the Swedes never got into the colonial sweepstakes, a number of them documented liberation movements all over the world, thanks in part to a 1960s anti-imperialist government and the availability of 16mm cameras. The result is Göran Hugo Olsson’s archival-footage classic Black Power Mixtape 1966-1975 and his latest release, Concerning Violence. 

Concerning Violence — titled after the first chapter of Wretched — covers the socialist-led liberation movements in Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Olsson has given us a gift with the archival footage alone. With the dominant and development-driven vision of NGOs, we can forget that African liberation started with Africans. Not only did they free themselves, but they also broke South African apartheid, brought democracy to Portugal and inspired the Black Power movement in North America. (Take that, Bono.)

The stirring images of Black freedom fighters are accompanied by Ms. Lauryn Hill reading Concerning Violence. Hill took on the project after serving jail time for tax evasion, and listening to the clarifying anger in her lilt, it sounds like she took Fanon’s words to heart.

Whereas Black Power Mixtape was giddy in its anticipation of the first Black president (Obama, not Chris Rock), Concerning Violence comes at time when the audacity of hope has turned into a time of fear. Violence is being perpetrated around the world by multinational corporations exploiting workers and land. Stateside, violence is more than a metaphor; its naked force is being unleashed against Black people in record numbers. 

For Fanon, armed struggle was not just a tactic but an assertion of humanity. If you get anything from reading Concerning Violence, it is that “Violence is a cleansing force of the oppressed.” But Fanon wasn’t a fatalist or a proponent of propaganda of the deed. He was in the deepest sense a man who believed and practiced collective action. So what would Fanon do about Ferguson and Eric Garner? I think he would have been impressed with the use of social media (Fanon wrote extensively on the liberating uses of radio). And he would likely have been hopeful upon seeing the multiracial youth-led demonstrations taking place and the participation of street organizations (his fondness of the “lumpen proletariat” influenced the Black Panthers greatly).

He may, however, have struggled with “Black life matters.” Contrary to Black Power activists, Fanon was not interested in racialism; he was a Utopian thinker who sought to undermine the very idea of race as a category. He would also have warned us against the “wily intellectuals” (and activists) who are looking to use this moment for personal gain. Just saying.

Most importantly, Fanon would have shut down the hypocrisy of the state’s calls for nonviolence in the face of naked repression. This repression is not just at the demos, but in everyday life. The most striking scenes in Olsson’s film are not the gunplay of the guerillas but the colonialism of the veranda: the whites on the golf course and the Black servants in the background, the Liberian worker and his family who are forced out of their home by police for organizing a strike. These scenes remind us that the police are not an isolated entity but represent the interests of the rulers. And wherever the police are, they negate any history or place we may inhabit, whether in Gaza or the deepest part of Brownsville. Olsson aids in the decolonization of our collective imagination, unearthing an oft-negated history and reminding us that resistance is about finding place and standing ground. 

Concerning Violence is playing at the IFC Center in December. For more, see ifccenter.com.