Review by Sean Boelman
Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro made waves when it came out five years ago, and the filmmaker’s newest work, Exterminate All the Brutes is just as thought-provoking. A fascinating, if somewhat messy, exploration of the history of racism in America and the world, there is no denying that this is a necessary addition to the discussion.
Based on the eponymous book by Sven Lindqvist, with additional inspiration from An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Silencing the Past: The Power and Production of History, the filmmaker’s personal experiences, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Peck’s documentary series offers a wide-spanning chronicle of colonialism and its inherent ties to racism.
The historical analysis that Peck offers of these atrocities committed against minorities across the world and throughout time is quite good, but what is perhaps more interesting is the way in which he compares the past to incidents of systemic oppression in the modern day. There is a lot of juxtaposition used throughout the series, and this is quite effective at making the message feel harrowingly relevant.
The series is four episodes long at an hour each, and yet it feels like Peck still had more to say. Each episode is centered around a particular theme, and Peck traverses the world and history in his arguments. The result somehow feels both deliberate and disorganized, like a passionate but reasonable diatribe on an institution that needs to be torn down.
There is a certain poeticism to Peck’s writing that will work for some but may be a bit too much for others. It’s a combination of the artistic sources from which he drew inspiration for the material and his own strong voice, and it’s an undeniably distinctive approach to exposing the truth behind a history that has been whitewashed and glorified.
A significant portion of the show is a series of reenactments starring Josh Hartnett as a series of white supremacists through the years. Many of these scenes are horrifying, effectively showing the terror exacted on people of color by those in power in ways that archival footage couldn’t impact the viewer, but they often drag the pacing to a halt.
That said, Peck’s use of a combination of archive footage, animation, and his own narration works really well in telling this story. Peck is clearly very well-versed as a filmmaker in argumentation, structuring his thesis in a way that serves to deliver and reinforce his point in an effective way.
Exterminate All the Brutes is an eye-opening look at a part of history to which society too often turns a blind eye. Although the structure is imperfect, that is also part of what makes it so compelling as it is indicative of Peck’s passion towards the topic.
Exterminate All the Brutes airs on HBO on April 7 and 8 at 9pm ET/PT.