Under his control, Congo became a gulag labor camp of shocking brutality. Leopold posed as the protector of Africans fleeing Arab slave-traders but, in reality, he carved out an empire based on terror to harvest rubber.
Families were held as hostages, starving to death if the men failed to produce enough wild rubber. Children’s hands were chopped off as punishment for late deliveries.
The Belgian government has denounced this documentary as a “tendentious diatribe” for depicting King Leopold II as the moral forebear of Adolf Hitler, responsible for the death of 10 million people in his rapacious exploitation of the Congo.
Yet, it is agreed today that the first Human Rights movement was spurred by what happened in the Congo.
What the Belgians did in the Congo was forgotten for over 50 years. It’s a shocking, astonishing story. In a way, it’s a horrifying prelude in European history to the Holocaust.
Between 1870 and 1900 the Congo was pillaged – it was valuable as a source of rubber. King Leopold created his own colony in the Congo over which he ruled unchecked.
Peter Bate’s film is a marvelously made reconstruction of those days – it features footage of Congolese villages and explains with actors exactly what happened.
It’s really a memorable film – the painfulness of what is described is counterbalanced by the great skill in the storytelling.