There’s an ongoing debate about what kinds of films nonwhite filmmakers ought to make. Haven’t we see enough slave, genocide, and colonization narratives? Has a spring of rom-coms and movie musicals been duly earned in the wake of such suffering, both onscreen and off? On its face, it would seem preposterous to demand that artists satisfy the sensibilities of some amorphous public (or a random assortment of hypervocal Twitter users). On the other hand, it’s true that movie executives seem eager to market the suffering of Black and Indigenous people, and fairly indifferent to depictions of joy, play, or simply something in between.
This past week has brought us three films and one hybrid docuseries that take opposite yet complementary approaches to depicting Black and Indigenous life and history across the globe. The docuseries Exterminate All the Brutes and the South African film Moffie offer unflinching depictions of suffering—walking us through historical moments of white patriarchal violence and connecting them to the present. The documentary Maɬni—Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore and the feature This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, meanwhile, are both lyrical art films that use ancestral storytelling techniques to share experiences of Indigenous living and political resistance. Instead of presenting two opposing arguments, these works exist in the same continuum, offering a vision for how thoughtful film curation may be essential to appreciating—rather than lamenting—the often stark differences in how Black and Indigenous artists share their ideas about land, empire, and the self.
Raoul Peck’s four-part Exterminate All the Brutes, debuting April 7 on HBO, comes in hot. In the first episode, or chapter, we review—through archival footage, documentary, and reenactments featuring professional actors—centuries of genocide conducted or organized by white Western empires and enacted upon various ethnic minorities and Indigenous populations. The series is adapted from the book of the same name by Sven Lindqvist; for fictionalized scenes of Native American genocide in the U.S., Peck turned to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.