Black and White…and Grey

It has always fascinated me, that when confronted with choices ( like pick A or B) people are quick to choose one. However, when decisions are more complex, people respond,” It’s not black and white.” The cinematography in the Lumumba film was seemingly just that.

        Art has the ability to explain what cannot be put into words; and I think the simplicity in the use of color speaks to how “black” and “white” the Europeans saw the issue of Congolese independence. While the Belgians’ motives and secret plans have very clear objectives and motivations,the Congolese politicians’ dissension creates a grey area. I think it is this grey area that lead to Lumumba’s assassination and the triumph of the Belgians’ interference efforts. The film director created the grey areas with the overlap of ironic images.

        One of the clearest images showing this grey area is the scene at the round table. The juxtaposition between the meeting with all of the Europeans and the separate meeting between all of the Africans demonstrates the black v. white lens through which the film director wants us to view the story of Lumumba’s assassination. On the white side, you have slightly different viewpoints about Congolese liberation, but the end goal is still the same. Let the Congolese people think they are free, and wait for our time to come in and regain control. On the black side, you have some Africans who want what is best for the Congo. On the other side, you have the Africans who simply want power and a corrupt government which operate for their benefit.

Perhaps the most glaring pictorial portrayal of this grey area is in the opening and closing scenes. In class, we noted the stark images of subservient blacks being controlled and tamed by dictatorial and “civilized” Europeans. One thing I think many people overlook is that these images are more impactful because they are in black and white. In the closing scenes, similar portrayals appear but with Africans in positions of power, and the images are in color. 

  To me, this split in the African meeting creates a grey area. It’s easy to say that the Europeans successfully plotted against Lumumba and the Africans were once again, victims of colonialism. It is another thing to say, the Europeans’ eventual plans for the Congo and the use of some of the Africans as pawns, lead to the successful extermination of Lumumba. I think that if the African politicians had a unified stance from the inception, it would have been harder for the Belgiums to convince the Western world and the UN that intervention was necessary. It would have been harder for the Europeans to turn the African politicians against each other. Perhaps, if things were more black and white, and the Africans and Europeans had decided definitive enemies based on skin color, Lumumba mit still be alive.

Posted on September 18, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. alexandramarcus21

    I think you bring up a really important point. Not only regarding the cinematography but also the colorful juxtaposition. The argument of the complexity of human nature seems valid. There is more to every situation that either position. Robert Evans said, “there are three sides to a story: your side, my side and the truth.” This quote is essential when talking about the complexity of colonization.
    As you refer to the points of view as black and white, these are also, ironically, symbolic of the racial lenses. In the movie, the Belgians, like many Europeans, felt the White Man’s Burden, and that in some way, they were actually helping in civilizing the Congolese people. Yet, from the point of the oppressed, such as Lumumba, they were being treated inhumanely.
    I think from a film studies point of view, Raoul Peck made an interesting choice to shoot to movie in color. The film is a reflection of a time painted in black and white, but Peck shows the audience that there is so much more to the story by using color. While in Things Fall Apart, the European claimed he could barely write a paragraph about Oknonkwo, this is juxtaposed in Nervous Conditions, as Tambu could keep writing about her story. Everyone’s story is vivid and colorful, nothing is in black and white, or even in shades of grey.

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