After completing his 2016 documentary “I’m Not Your Negro”, director Raul Peck felt that he had spoken on the subject of US race relations. Or at least his subject, the author was James Baldwin.
In the film, Baldwin called Safedi a “metaphor for power” and described the racism of this country as the best of words. More can Peck say that Baldwin was not?
“Baldwin is one of the most accurate scholars of American society,” Peck said in a video interview from his home in Paris. “If you do not understand the message, it means that there is no hope for you.”
The film received more than a dozen film awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Other than praise rave reviews, “I’m Not Your Negro” revived interest in Baldwin’s work, which continues to this day. In the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protest, the author’s work seems to be forever relevant. Nevertheless, Peck said: “I was surprised that people could continue their lives as if nothing had happened. As if these words do not exist. “
Realization inspired Peck to try to uncover the roots of what Baldwin wrote and spoke, and the history of racism, violence, and hate in the West: “What was the origin of all this?” Peck said that he is surprised. “Where did the whole ideology of white supremacy begin?”
The discovery is one of Peck’s latest projects, “Extreme All Brutes”, a supremely ambitious, deeply essayistic undertaking that combines archival footage, clips from Hollywood films, scripted scenes, and animated scenes. Premiering Wednesday on HBO Max, the four-part series chart depicts the history of Western racism, colonialism, and genocide, including the Spanish discovery of an already populated land and the “discovery” of Columbus through stories of Atlantic Slave trade , Massacre on Wounded Knee. And the Holocaust.
For Peck, who has woven his story into the film using voice-over, snapshots, and home movies, the project is a highly personal one. In many ways, he is the ideal man to tell a story about Western colonialism: Having grown up in Haiti, a former colony that gained its independence in 1804, he moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his family at the age of 8 Moved to where his parents worked for the new free government. He has also lived and worked in New York, West Berlin and Paris, and directed films about the Haitian Revolution (“Moloch Tropical”) and the murdered Congo politician Patrice Lumumba (“Lumumba: Death of a Prophet”).
“I think my soul is Haitian in some way,” he said, “but I’ve been influenced by all the places I’ve been.”
Peck began to think of “externet” in 2017 after Richard Playler, then president of HBO, “cursed” him for 10 minutes for not bringing “I’m Not Your Negro” to his network, then his Carton Blanche offered project for next.
“We were working on a number of film ideas, both documentary and feature film,” said Ramee Grelletti, the producer of Peck for the past 13 years. “And Raoul said, ‘Let’s bring Richard the hardest idea.”
The film, he told the Playper in a two-page pitch, would be based on historian Sven Lindquist’s 1992 book “Extreme All the Brutes”, a mix of history and travelogue, with Joseph Konrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” Was used. To explore Europe’s racist past in Africa. (“Erase all the brutes” are the last words we hear from Kurtz, Conrad’s ivory trading “Demigod”.)) It will be about that, but many more, many of which they were not yet working on.
“There were a lot of ideas in that pitch,” Gralty recalled.
After Lindquist’s book Mining, Peck determined that he needed a similar text about the history of genocide in the United States. He came on the “History of the Natives, History of the United States” Raksan Dunbar-Ortiz’s American Book Award-winning examination against his natives for centuries, and was “awakened”. Peck and Dunbar-Ortiz talk at length about their book and their film, and how the two can come together.
Many of the film’s most powerful scenes emanate from Dunbar-Ortiz’s text, including an animated sequence known as the Trisil of Tears, to the account of Alexis de Tocqueville crossing the Mississippi in 1831. When his dogs find out they are being left behind, they “set up a hopeless Howell”, trying in vain to leap into the icy waters of Mississippi.
“I’m almost crying now, just thinking about it,” said Dunbar-Ortiz. “And in the film, showing it in animation, I think it will make a lot of people cry.”
To complete the history, Peck turned to the work of his friend, the Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolf Trufilot, who died in 2012. Peck was moved by a central idea in Tribblot’s book “Silencing the Past: Power: History of Production”. : That “history is the fruit of power,” shaped and told (or not) by the conquerors.
“It’s the history of Europe,” Peck said. “Europe got to tell the story of the last 600 years.”
Throughout the series, Peck takes over the heirs of the sacred cows, including explorer Henry Morton Stanley (“a murder”); Winston Churchill, who described the slaughter of thousands of Muslim soldiers in the War of 1898 as a young war correspondent, called the Battle of Omdurman a “magnificent game”; And even “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” author, L. Frank Baum, who advocated exterminating Native Americans after the massacre on Wounded Knee.
Among his most frequent targets is Donald Trump, who compares the film – through a series of powerful juxtapositions – to bigots throughout history. “I’m an immigrant from a shithole country,” Peck says at one point, one of several references in the series to Trump’s racist rhetoric.
Peck said, “As a way to create a new vehicle to get a feel of what the real world is, he played many of the 19th-century U.S. Army officers (based on Quartermaster General Thomas Sidney Stoop), starring Josh Hartnett Filmed the scenes, every racist man who reappears throughout history hangs black people and shoots Native Americans. Hartnett met Peck a year ago on an unsuccessful film project, and then later Cannes. In, and the two became friends.
“Last year, he called me and said he wanted to play a white American actor at the tip of the narcissistic sword of Western history, and he thought of me,” Hartnett said. “I thought, wow, this is flattering.”
“I’ve known him for 20 years,” Peck said, “and so I knew I could negotiate with him.”
In March of last year, Hartnett and the rest of the cast and crew traveled to the Dominican Republic to film live-action scenes, with locations around the island nation standing for Florida and the Belgian Congo. Then the epidemic ensued, ceasing operations a night before production began. Peck considered his options and took the entire shoot closer to home.
“We were in the south of France in the summer,” Hartnett said. “So it was not a bad situation.”
Through meta-literal moments and manipulations, Peck creates his own imbalances for the major Western version of history, forcing audiences to think about the narrative, both popular and academic, that fed him all his life is. In one scene, Hartnett’s character shoots an indigenous woman (Sisa Ankarspray), only to discover that she is an actress on a film shoot. In the second, a 19th-century Anglican clergyman gave a lecture dividing humanity into “Savage races” (Africans), “semiautonomous” (Chinese) and “civilized” – to contemporary audiences filled with people of color. .
At the beginning of the series, Peck announced, “There is no such thing as alternative facts.” But he also seems to recognize the selective form of all historical fiction and the power to control the image, by examining deeper truths in some scenes to ask the audience to imagine what might have happened as if things were in a different way. She has gone. In one scene, white families are shaken, killed and taken into the wilderness. In another, Columbus’s landing party is slaughtered on the beaches of present-day Haiti in 1492.
“I’m going to use every means necessary to express these points,” Peck said.
A longtime filmmaker and film lover, Peck filled his series with film clips to illustrate the creative revival of Hollywood history (“John Wayne” in the 1960s) and to complement his arguments. (In a scene played for laughter, Harrison Ford shoots a scissor Arab in “The Raiders of the Lost Ark.”)
One of the most disturbing clips in the series – no small feat – from the otherwise musical Hollywood musical: “On the Town” (1949). In the scene, Jean Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller, and others walk through a seemingly very natural museum of natural history, chanting in imitation African jibberish, dressed as indigenous Americans, and “to the war.” Set to the tune of “prolific man” emblazoned as “prolific” and South Pacific, the dance number tells the club-toting Kew man – “a jovial man with no English drape” – Native Americans, Africans And with Pacific Islanders.
“When I saw it, I said, ‘No, my God, that’s not possible,” Peck said. “It’s like they knew that I was making this film. It just kept giving and giving.”
Not surprisingly, getting rights to some clips was a struggle. “We don’t lie,” Grellety said. “We were contacting people and saying, the title is ‘Extreme All Brutes’.” So he knew it was not a romantic comedy. “In some cases, the filmmakers had to secure the clip by proper use – as they did with” Prehistoric Man “.
Peck probably did not see himself reflected in the films he grew up with as a young boy in Haiti, but he uses Hollywood clips that help tell the history of the West. This process of imaginative recovery was not an accident.
“I was born into a world where I didn’t make everything in front of me,” he said. “But I can make sure that I can take advantage of everything that I can show that the world is not what you think.
“And those Hollywood movies, those archive folders, those windows that they didn’t know were left open.”