It was October 1st, 7:30pm. There was a showing of the film “Stop filming us” by Joris Postema at the African Studies Centre. I had no idea what the movie was about. Frankly, I forgot I signed up for the movie showing, so I went in with no clue. Normally I am not a big fan of European films about ‘Africa’. There is always a tendency in these films to confirm Europe’s popular media stance. European filmmakers never seem to get rid of their ‘Eurocentric glasses’. Nevertheless, in my opinion, this movie is an upgrade from what we normally get to see.
The filmmaker’s main theme in the movie is an essentialist one; “Am I, a Western filmmaker, capable of showing the real Congo?” He begins the movie by saying that Congo has been depicted as dangerous, poor and underdeveloped. That when he filmed for an NGO, one of the 250, he was not allowed to step out of his car and he stayed in a highly secured compound, because it was too dangerous. That the current media and films are creating and confirming this image of Congo. He adds that Congo did feel as the most dangerous place on earth. A few years later he filmed with a local crew and was sleeping in a normal hotel without security. It made him realize that his image from before is nothing like the Congolese reality. His mission then became to show the real Congo.
The question is; did he succeed? In my opinion, he did not succeed in showing the real Congo. However, his movie is material for opening up a dialogue on how our aid and development systems in Congo fail, and how it should possibly change. Furthermore, there are dialogues in the movie that could help reflect on one’s own position and perspective in and about Africa. I will give you two examples.
There is a part where he shows an artist making a movie about a boy skating in Goma, in a positive light. During the filming there was a beating in the street, with something used as a whip. This is followed up by a conversation between Joris and his crew:
Joris Postema: What happened? Why do they beat him like this?
TD Jack Muhindo: And why did you film it?
Joris Postema: Yeah, because it happened right in front of me. I was quite shocked.
Ganza Buroko: This is what your movie is about. Because of your background you film it automatically. But a Congolese would never film that.
TD Jack Muhindo: For us this is normal, something we see every day. When someone is caught stealing, this is a way of correcting that person.
Joris Postema: They kill him. C’est pas corriger non?
TD Jack Muhindo: It is correcting someone.
Ganza Buroko: You were shocked. But the habit of beating people is not African or Congolese. It is colonial. It derives from the King Leopold era. Leopold taught us to beat and whip Africans. If a Congolese did something he would be beaten up or they would cut off his hands. And this all has become a part of our customs and reality.
Joris Postema (interrupting): But we stopped doing that in Europe no?
Ganza Buroko: But it has integrated in our habits and customs. It is true that it does not happen in Europe anymore. But you were shocked when you saw us so I am curious how you are going to use it in your film.
The parts of Ganza Buroko and TD Jack Muhindo were completely in French, which I translated in English. Joris is sitting in the middle. The question he asked, and the way he asked sounded as if it was abnormal. As if it was almost uncivilized. When they were filming the beating, they quickly climbed into the car, almost fleeing from the scene. The way it was filmed, as if it was from a hiding spot, and the fleeing, makes it seem like that what was happening was something shocking. This makes the footage somewhat problematic. Then, his crew explains that it is a normal thing to occur, which actually derives from Europe. However, in stead of listening and understanding it, Joris says that it was not correcting, but it was killing someone. He hereby disagrees with two Congolese men who explain that it is their custom and reality, which makes it normal for them. This clearly enables an Us vs. Them dichotomy. Why he suddenly throws in a French sentence could be for multiple reasons. It makes it clear he wants the crew to know that it was not correcting someone, but it was something inhumane, by switching to their language. However, it could also just be for the flow of the conversation. Then, when Ganza is talking about how the Belgian colonial rule taught that custom to the Congolese, Joris interrupts him saying, with a specific hand gesture, that it does not happen in Europe anymore. This clearly shows ‘white fragility’, jumping to an argument that Europe does not beat or whip people. With this argument, he basically says that because it does not happen in Europe, it is not something normal. This contributes to a negative other-representation.
However, even though Joris his white fragility is problematic, it was not just Joris talking. It was a dialogue, which is about how his background contributes to his images of what is right and wrong, and how that impacts the media and daily life in Congo. Joris is not the only one ‘suffering’ from white fragility in the world, and he shows this dialogue in his film. Hence, the arguments of the crew will also be seen by others, maybe creating some self-reflexivity with some people.
The second example is a conversation after a ‘biscuit incident’.
Joris Postema: So the question is: Did Wiro and I do something neo-colonial in the last two weeks?
Ganza Buroko: (laughing) look at this. You are standing there while we are sitting here. The three Africans together.
Joris Postema: So should we change?
Ganza Buroko: Oui
Joris Postema: Okay me and Ganza change. Let’s start again.
Ganza Buroko: No, we have already started. The begging children for example. You closed the car door and gave them biscuits, and maybe some money. That raises questions.
Joris Postema: Listen. I bought these biscuits for us in the car. And then Wiro was filming the UN car and these two street kids who were standing next to the car. And then we made a shot of them, and then I thought: I give them a biscuit. Is that wrong?
TD Jack Muhindo: Is it wrong? Did they tell you they were hungry? Did they tell you they needed food?
Joris Postema: No they didn’t.
Ganza Buroko: You see, you don’t just give someone something without knowing what they need. Maybe they just wanted to talk. Make some small talk about your life in Amsterdam.
Joris Postema: But you don’t think that sometimes it’s nice to give a little money so maybe they can have some food?
Ganza Buroko: Uhh no I don’t think so. Because you are not the right person to do so. It would have been better for you to give money to TD Jack for example, who could give it to them. Because TD Jack is not seen as a savior, but as soon as you do it, the white man will automatically become someone that gives. Because that is the existing image. It happens. Even when you have good intentions, if they don’t connect to the local customs, they foster bad habits and give the wrong image. You are feeding a mentality of dependence by giving people the idea that they could get money easy.
Joris Postema: But it was one biscuit (C’est une biscuit)
TD Jack Muhindo: Yes, but it is about the deed.
Gaïus Kowene: Joris, there are that many street kids in the city center because white people give them things. Biscuits, candy, money, all sorts of food. If the kids do not get anything on the streets, they go home
Joris Postema: But I do understand what you are saying. But I’m also thinking I gave you a biscuit. And you, and you. It’s just being nice giving someone biscuits.
Gaïus Kowene: No, but you asked us first. You asked us before.
TD Jack Muhindo: Does anyone want a biscuit?
Gaïus Kowene: Did you ask the children?
Joris Postema: No
Gaïus Kowene: No
I chose this specific part because it happens a lot; white people handing out biscuits, money etc. to African children (on the street). If it happens a lot, that means that this dialogue has not been had that much, let alone on a global scale. It is clear Joris has no idea he was acting neo-colonial, by standing apart from the ‘Africans’, and by handing out biscuits. He has no idea, like many others, which is why this dialogue needed to happen. However, TD Jack and Ganza gave a clear answer. They did not ask for it, and he did not know what they wanted. Joris assumed that the children wanted food, which indicates that he thought that the children were hungry, which is a very western neo-colonial image of Africa. He did not want to depict a neo-colonial image in his film, but he did not know that he was acting neo-colonial. He knows the term neo-colonialism, he knows what it entails, and yet is still acting neo-colonial. That could indicate that the neo-colonial attitude is deeply rooted in Western systems.
Hereafter, he is showing white fragility. Ganza explains why Joris is the wrong person to act like this, and Joris does not really seem to get why he was in the wrong when he had ‘good intentions’. And then Gaïus steps in. It almost seems that Gaïus steps in a dialogue when he feels like Joris is not getting it, and he wants to explain it to him. In the end, Joris does not seem to get it, and it is clear that he is uncomfortable in this situation, as he still defends his own act. However, I do think that eventually he did understand what was wrong about it, because the dialogue is in the film.
I have a lot of thoughts about the movie and the meaning of the movie. I will keep it short. Even though I think Joris Postema’s mission to show us the real Congo failed, I do think he showed us the ‘white’ position in Congo. In his movie he shows a woman from the UN demanding a king to sign a contract about child soldiers. She reeks of Western arrogance, thinking that their (the UN) way is the best way. She is behaving superior towards a king, which shows a very imbalanced powerrelation between two races. Moreover, there is a scene where a filmmaker, Bernadette, is asking a man from the French Language Institute for funding for the second part of her movie, and he says that she could use their computers and equipment, assuming that she, as a ‘poor African woman’, would not have good quality equipment and a computer. In these scenes there is a strong Us vs. Them dichotomy and negative other-representation.
I think Joris put those scenes in his movie to show the Western arrogance, to make people aware of the Western stance and perspective in Congo and that it should be different, and that Congolese people, in one of the scenes, even say that they do not need the Western organizations and companies. An Ebola center has been burned down by local people, which raises questions about the international organization that put it there, since the local people do not want it. There are many more examples in the film, but the main point is that there is a difference in power between European and African, And Joris Postema wants to change that by creating awareness by showing Europeans their role in the image in the media and in what is happening over there, and showing how the Congolese are dealing with the Western influence in their country.
The dialogues he put in the film are crucial because there are lots of people who are not aware why the neo-colonial things Joris did are wrong, and in the dialogue these people can perhaps identify themselves with Joris, and in these dialogues it becomes clear why Joris did something (because of his background), that he should not have done. It makes him uncomfortable, and probably the ones that watch it as well. But as Mirjam de Bruijn says: It is good to be uncomfortable. I think it has changed his own perspective and reflexivity later on, and maybe that will happen for others that watch the film as well.
Even though Joris cannot show the real Congo, and films things that many Congolese people would not have filmed, he shows an image of Congo struggling with the Western image of Congo that keeps being produced and reproduced, and lays out some western images that are crucial for debate.