“When I see the alt-right parties here in Belgium, and when I hear them talk, I feel like they are forgetting that Congo has played a major part in their history. ”
Mr Namugunga, reporter and student in Brussels
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Joachim "Lucious" Oyakhilome
Since social movements (The Statues Must Fall, Black Lives Matter) statues all around the world glorifying controversial historical personalities were put into a controversial spotlight. Many people around the world up to this date do not know about the history of King Leopold II. of Belgium and his colonization of the Congo, although he had a huge impact on both Belgian and Congolese society. His bloody regime of terror is associated with a huge demise of the Congolese people, which has been categorized as a form of genocide by the influential author Adam Hochschild.
To shed light on the awareness of Congolese history and his statues which are spread across various public spaces in Belgium, I want to find out from experts and locals, how they approach this issue. When did they first get to know about King Leopold II, how do they see his impact, what do they think of his statues? I want to gather different strategies on how to proceed with these statues in the future, and a potential decolonization of Belgian public space.
Initially, it was quite challenging finding participants for this documentary. I posted several ads on social networks seeking participants, to no avail. A second approach was to seek out specific individuals who have contributed to this topic either by means of activism, education or artistic expressions. I approached these individuals with an invitation for an interview, and received a positive response from most of them.
Some could not feature in this project due to their busy schedules this year (a.o. journalist/author David Van Reybrouck, and political scientist/author Nadia Nsayi). Some did not accept our invitation nor wanted to give a statement (a.o. politician and former Belgian state secretary for urban planning and public heritage Pascal Smet).
Jan, an Antwerp pastor from the Netherlands.
Yves, a Brussels student from the Netherlands with Congolese parents.
Prof. Bob, a professor of political science at University of Liège, with Congolese origins.
Laura, an architect, artivist and researcher from Brussels, with Rwandese origins
Mireille, a Belgian-Congolese activist and work group animator, & her non-profit organization BAMKO-cran.
Prof. Idesbald, a professor of colonial history at KU Leuven.
Theophile, an activist and philosopher from Namur.
I want this film to begin a dialogue about the impact and roles historical statues play in our society. To drive this conversation and make sense of it, it is important to listen to multiple arguments from all parties. I understand that I could make a film that was explicit about the atrocities committed during the brutal regime of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo. Laying more emphasis on the historical event that took place during his regime might be educative, but might also contribute to more division in society which is contrary to my goal of this documentary.
It is very important to me that the audience not go numb in the watching of this documentary, or be too emotionally involved to grasp the point of this documentary by shutting down and stopping to listen. So the balancing between the devastation of what happened in Congo during Leopold II's reign, the presentation of facts that might shine a positive light on Leopold II and the potential lessons that can be learned from his statues is something I grapple with a lot. The shifting tones between sadness, and hope are something I strive for, trying to keep the film visceral and surprising in its emotion and arc.
To this end, I decided to shoot the Brolls of various cities and environments in Belgium during the summer period to give off a bright, happy and colorful mood. I am working a lot with sound and music and the interaction of these elements. I see statues of Leopold II as characters of its own that we revisit throughout the film, learning bits and pieces each time. I try to give enough history but not too much, and I question myself constantly in this regard. This is a real challenge and I hope an audience finds it engaging as a catalyst to question the status quo.