Moviie review: Netflix's Black Earth Rising

March 26, 2020

ONE of the serendipitous benefits we got from this corona lockdown is watch outstanding TV series we normally would ignore in streaming channels if we were busy as usual attending presscons and other showbiz events. One of the best we’ve seen is an original Netflix BBC production, “Black Earth Rising”, which tackles the very complex issues involving the Rwandan genocide in 1994 when the Hutu tribe massacred nearly a million members of their rival Tutsi tribe while world leaders just stood by doing nothing. This April, Rwanda will mark the 25th anniversary of that infamous event so this show is very timely.

The series is reminiscent of movies that also touched on this infamous episode in the history of humanity like “Hotel Rwanda”, “Sometimes in April”, “Sunday in Kigali” and “Shooting Dogs”. Written and directed by Hugo Blick (who also did the acclaimed series “The Honourable Woman” about the Israeli-Palestine conflict) who obviously did a lot of amazing research, this is the fictional story of a Tutsi survivor, Kate Ashby (Michaela Coel, a very black actress from Ghana.)

As a little girl, she survived the murder of her whole family when she was adopted by a British lawyer, Eve Ashby (Harriet Walter), who works with the International Criminal Court prosecuting erring strongmen who try to evade justice. This kind of drama series is not for dumb viewers who just want escapist fare. So kung bobo ka, huwag mo na itong panoorin.

The opening scene alone involves a Q&A session where human rights lawyer Eve Ashby is grilled by a black guy on her views about “self righteous western paternalism” and “neo-colonialism”.  The series has 8 episodes and each one of them offers gripping moments of complex drama and suspense-filled popcorn moments of tension, combined with some humor, animation and other relevant elements, all beautifully integrated to portray extreme examples of suffering and survival. It’s very informative and enlightening, but also done in a commercial manner to make sure all the heavy stuff about global conspiracies, moral jurisdiction and the exploitative relationship of European nations with Africa won’t just bore you. 

Michaela Coel’s performance as Kate, a legal investigator who cannot escape from the trauma of her tortured past as a young survivor in the Rwandan genocide and continues to battle her own demons, is simply affecting as she portrays with such engaging and ferocious intensity. If you want challenging drama that is rich with real emotions, this one is worth checking out and investing your time in.

Some of the questions it raises are just posed but not really answered, like are we eally past the age of Western interference and paternalism in 3rd world countries? Are United Nations peacekeepers really doing a good unbiased job with their self professed good intentions? This takes place against a backdrop of corruption in Rwanda itself, where local politicians are as corrupt as the international businessmen who exploit their country. 

Giving good support are John Goodman as Michael Ennis, the boss of the law firm where Kate works; and black actresses Noma Dumezweni as Alice Munezero, a former general of the Rwandan Army who now holds a key position in their government; Tamara Tunie as Eunice Clayton, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; and Abena Ayivor as Bibi Mundanzi, the well liked president of Rwanda who was adopted as a child by Alice’s family. This show demonstrates that the history of the world can really be very messy, just like other genocidal conflicts as the Holocaust that tried to exterminate the Jews, the Bosnian genocide in 1995 or the Khmer Rouge Cambodian genocide in the last half of the 70s.