Matthias De Groof, a Belgian filmmaker, recently unveiled a short film that directly addresses Belgian colonizers in Congo. Originally presented in 1985 under the title “Under the Black Mask,” the film has now been rebranded as “Under the White Mask: A film that Haesaerts could have made.” This transformation signifies a deliberate confrontation with the injustices imposed on the Republic of Congo by colonialism.
In contrast to its predecessor, which focused on examining Congolese masks, this immersive short film takes a different approach. It delves into the broader consequences of colonial actions by shifting the narrative from cultural artifacts to a more comprehensive exploration of the impact of colonialism on the people and the nation of Congo. The film serves as a poignant commentary on the historical legacy of colonization and its lasting effects. With this, it offers a thought-provoking and immersive viewing experience.
The film emerged as part of an exhibition for a Congolese artist aiming to recontextualize images from the earlier film “Under the Black Mask,” produced in 1985. Having faced numerous questions about the Belgian perspective in the original film, the artist recognized its limitations as a mere commentary on Congo during the colonial period. Determined to offer a fresh viewpoint, De Groof embarked on a journey to recreate the film from a post-colonial perspective. The new film strives to surpass the boundaries of Haesaerts’ work by delving into the authentic essence of Congo. Moreover, it sheds light on the profound impacts of colonization.
Collaborating with Congolese slam poet Maravillha Munto, De Groof translated Aimé Césaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism” to Lingala. The culmination of their efforts resulted in an 8-minute film that serves as a powerful confrontation. The film further addresses the profound effects of colonization on both the colonizer and the people of Congo.
A central theme in the short film revolves around a key excerpt from Aimé Césaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism,” where he asserts that “Colonization is thingification.” This powerful statement becomes a focal point in the film. It directly challenges and addresses the colonizers regarding the consequences of their actions. The film adeptly captures and confronts the indiscretions associated with colonization, offering a thought-provoking exploration of the subject.
Matthias De Groof explains, “I began by selecting images from “Under the Black Mask” that gave me the feeling the masks faced me directly.” The objective was to reframe the original imagery, allowing the masks to momentarily escape Haesaerts’ frame, posing the question: What would these images say if they had a voice?
The 8-minute art film features a slideshow of Congolese masks and a Lingala translation voice-over. De Groof redirects the focus, turning the masks into ‘participants’ in a powerful message directed at the colonizer. It confronts the injustices and dehumanization resulting from colonization and imperialism.
“I suggested that we instead create a new film that would reframe the original imagery,” De Groof emphasized. The film serves as a call to action for African audiences to recognize the ongoing impact of colonization on the continent. Furthermore, it addresses imperialism as a catalyst for capitalism, echoing Césaire’s words: “Colonization is thingification.”
The short film, available on the New York Times website, encourages viewers to delve into the complexities of history. Moreover, it reflects on the persistent effects of colonialism in contemporary society. Check it out to engage in this thought-provoking exploration of cultural identity and historical reckoning. The film challenges prevailing narratives and fosters a deeper understanding of the intricate tapestry of our shared human experience.