Harry Belafonte and Martin Scorsese are planning a TV series on King Leopold II of Belgium's brutal rule in the Congo.
By now, a lot has been written on the history of Belgian King Leopold II’s deadly reign over his own private colony, Congo Free State, from 1885-1908 (after which it became a formal Belgian colony and was renamed Belgian Congo). Strangely though, there is not much in the way of films or TV series–well in English at least–of Leopold II’s brutal rule of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under the guise of humanitarianism and philanthropy, the king (and the companies he contracted large tracts of land out to as concessions) began plundering the country’s vast supplies of ivory, rubber, and minerals. In the process, anywhere from 5 to 10 million Congolese were killed, with the failure to meet hefty rubber collection quotas being punishable by death.
A lot has been written about this violent period in Congo’s history. Some of the most famous literary examples are Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Crime of the Congo, and more recently, Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost. A made-for-TV documentary on the subject called “Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death” was released back in 2003 and is available to watch in its entirety on YouTube. It is by no means a great film, but it does provide a reasonable amount of information, so much so that the Belgian government got upset. Then there’s a 2006 documentary film King Leopold’s Ghost, marketed as being based on Hochschild’s book. In Belgium, a number of films have appeared (some that we have covered before): several colonial films, Un Congolais qui dérange, Mémoire belge au Congo, and the recent series Bonjour Congo.
Now Deadline.com is reporting that Martin Scorsese and Harry Belafonte plan on joining forces to produce a miniseries that takes on Leopold II’s notoriously brutal rule over the country now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Deadline reports that Scorcese and Belafonte are “gathering source material and interviewing writers, with Scorsese planning to direct the first installment and secure top talent to helm the rest.” We also learn that the project was born out of Belafonte’s own interest in the horrific history of King Leopold II’s involvement in Congo’s rubber trade. (Belafonte, if you remember, has a long association with African anti-colonial, nationalist and antiapartheid movements.)
We have a sense Scorsese and Belafonte will do a better job with their miniseries.