The truth of the matter is that Unwatchable is very watchable in comparaison to the real life testimonies that I have heard and seen. It depicts the nature in which Masika had been savagely raped along with her two daughters, her husband mutilated and his genitals fed to her before he was killed by armed militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I had the privilege to be among journalists, critics, activists and community leaders at the private screening of Unwatchable on Tuesday 27 September 2011 in the heart of Oxford Street. The atmosphere was vibrant as we mingled and shared a drink (orange juice for me since I hardly drink alcohol) networked and got acquainted with one another.
Unwatchable left me feeling a little bit numb. I had so many questions, yet could not pin point what they were. I do not know what I was expecting from the movie but it left me slightly confused, hence the reason why I have taken an entire week in order to process the information, find a coherent interpretation of my thoughts and give an honest opinion or critical analysis to you right here.
Just like any other Holliwood blockbuster production the soundtrack begins in a melancholic tone asking the audience ‘Could we ever imagine it happening here?‘ The first scene is that of a cute little girl in a white dress with blue eyes and blond hair (I wondered if the directors wanted to create an imagery of innocence or purity) picking flowers in her garden. It is a picturesque scene of the perfect English family doing normal day-to-day activities in their home; land-owners, living in a multi-million pound estate in a quaint Cotswolds village. Basically, the type of luxury that most of us cannot relate to; that is the first error I found with the film.
‘Listen to that fucking tune ‘
Then suddenly, a helicopter appears unexpectedly, lands in the middle of the garden with armed soldiers leaping out ferociously as though they had been tipped off that Osama Bin Laden wasn’t dead but rather lurking in the vicinity. The soldiers (some of whom marched into the house from afield) grab each family member almost simultaneously from different rooms and begin by gang raping the eldest daughter then sodomising her by inserting a rifle into her vagina. ‘Listen to that fucking tune’ one of the soldiers omits as the victim lays screaming on the kitchen table. In fact, very few words are spoken in the production, it is a little theatrical; very Hollywood. The father is made to watch all this before being executed on the front lawn.The mother, in the midst of the silent screams of her daughter, is made to eat her husbands genitals then laid upon his lifeless body and raped.
Where is the little girl in all this I hear you ask me? She is the observer; peeking through the window from the garden where we left her at the beginning. She is the connection between horror and innocence. She is our eyes; our inability to comprehend what is happening. We fear what her fate will be and as she begins to run to escape, we (the audience) are at the edge of our seats hoping, wishing, praying…… Just when we stop holding the last gasp of oxygen in our lungs as we watch her run for dear life, we are shown a group of armed mercenaries marching towards her from the other side of the garden hedge. That encounter is left to the imagination. The movie ends. A short-lived message about atrocities in DRC, mobile phones and the use of rape as a means of destroying communities is narrated (which my ears care-not to hear nor my eyes care-not to see by this point. All I want is a glass of water and some fresh air!) – second error.
If you are squirmish then this is not a film for you
maybe I should’ve mentioned that at the beginning. I sympathise with the task at hand, that is, firstly to campaign against mobile phone manufacturers ‘s use of conflict minerals and secondly, to raise awareness on the systematic rapes of women and children taking place in Eastern Congo.
Understandably, the brutality of the film has caused a lot of controversy, for its offensive, gruesome nature. Perhaps it is because people have become so desensitised with certain things, especially with the ‘don’t see, don’t hear’ culture the media has cultivated in regards to DR Congo. Is it acceptable for charitable campaigns to take such an agressive approah? In respect to the DRC, I would say YES because in most parts it goes undetected. As one journalist mentioned at the screening during question time, no British broadcasters are prepared to expose the extent of the massacre taking place in Eastern Congo – a case of not wanting to open Pandora’s box.
My very own cousin was mutulated in Bukavu when the civil war broke out. She was fully pregnant and had her stomach slashed open, the baby killed before she was slaughtered. (this is a little bit random but I thought i’d let it out anyways….)
As a Congolese person, I find it difficult in my mind to place the scene here in England or in any developed Europoean county for that matter – for, as I know it, rape as a weapon of war which I previously talked about here, is just that – A WEAPON OF WAR. I feel somewhat angered that this could be interpreted by viewers as ‘my people’ being uncivilised, barbaric human beings. In Unwatchable there was no war. The likelyhood of this attrocity taking place in Kinshasa (DR Congo capital) is near to none.
In contrast, Eastern Congo has been in a civil war for over ten years, is filled with warlords, child soldiers, numerous rebel groups and central government that is incapable to end the cycle – all of which is being fuelled by multinationals, the international community’s intentional disregard of the situation and our consumer demands for new technology. THAT IS THE CONTEXT which was taken away from me! That is also why I felt cheated out of information. As a member of the audience I had been thrown into the deep end whereby random soldiers appear in a lovely home and for no apparent reason decided to abuse, kill, hurt a family….. and that is the ‘Hollywoodness’ part of the movie which permitted me to disconnect with the campaign with little compassion to offer.
Yet I feel…..
The good thing about Unwatchable is that it triggers a discourse, whether good or bad it engages an institution, a crowd, a community, a workplace, a group of friends, a home. To try to seek a deeper understanding of the rape epidemic in DR Congo, its root causes and why it is continuing to happen and pass undetected in our radar. Millions have died, thousands have been displaced, livelyhoods have been broken, innocence of children have been stolen; shattered. Blood continues to be shed, families continue to weep , yet little is being said.
I aplaude this campaign because it aims to lobby the EU to introduce a legislation that will force companies to disclose where their raw materials are obtained so that conflict minerals are easily traced and trading them becomes harder. Where I come from there is a proverb in Lingala which states: ‘lisapi moko esukolaka elongi nioso te’ – translates: ‘one finger does not wash the entire face’ (meaning one would need the hand to get the job done properly ; teamwork if you will). Hence, to me, the campaign is an additional step towards the right direction.
Congolese women do not want to be pitied, I wonder how Masika would feel about this, is it exploitation? Since the vicious tragedy Masika has helped to rehabilitate some 6000 rape victims. I hope that this does not impede the process of justice nor Masika’s fight for recovery along with many other women and young girls. Let’s seek accountability and for this very reason, I shall sign the petition and do hope that you will too.
Remerciements ( Français)
- Thank you to Vava Tampa, Mimi Litambola and all the Save The Congo (Stc) team
- Thank you to DarkFibre who wrote and directed the film
- Thank you to the production team which included David Arnold and Michael Bonvillian, who jointly donated over £400,000 worth of their time.
Read more reviews/ articles
- Must we see rape in Britain to understand rape in Congo? http://blogs.reuters.com/africanews/2011/09/30/must-we-see-rape-in-britain-to-understand-rape-in-congo/#commentform
- Unwatchable is just that – is it doing anything to help Congo. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/28/unwatchable-congo-rape-short-film?INTCMP=SRCH
- Unwatchable: should charities use shock tactics to get attention? http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/28/unwatchable-congo-rape-short-film?INTCMP=SRCH
- IMAGES OF THE DAY by photographer David Mbiyu http://www.demotix.com/news/848798/blood-mineral-trade-short-film-premieres-london