Black: The sorrows of Belgium I: Congo
In the trilogy The Sorrows of Belgium, consisting of the three national colours Black/Yellow/Red, director Luk Perceval zooms in on three dark periods in Belgian history. Respectively: the exploitation of Congo under Leopold II in Black, the collaboration with the German occupying forces during World War II in Yellow and the terrorist attacks in ‘hellhole’ Brussels in Red.
With these historical facts as a starting point, a portrait in three parts is sketched, where a political agenda was again and again the cause for human suffering, where surrealism is never far off and where a small country tries to stand its ground between big international powers, sometimes in a cunning way, but more often in a convulsive way … Welcome to the political centre of Europe!
As a source of inspiration for Black, the first part of The Sorrows of Belgium about Congo, they used a true account by one of the first travellers to Congo in history: African-American William Henry Sheppard, billed as the 'Black Livingstone’. Sheppard travelled from New York to Africa via London in February 1890 as a missionary for the Presbyterian church. Together with his white travel companion Sam Lapsley – both men still in their early twenties at the time – he began a life-changing adventure across completely unknown territory, where he encountered one surprise after another. Unlike Lapsley, who couldn’t physically cope with the mission, Sheppard thrived, until the money from the church ran out and he had to return to America for new funds. On his return, he was vocal about the abuses in Congo, and he is one of the first to denounce Leopold II’s disgraceful exploitation. In Black, a reconstruction of Sheppard’s authentic travel logs will be made, inspired by the fiery lectures he gave to win financial support. He didn’t shy away from dramatic effect and exhibited art and utensils, responding to the craving for exoticism by the average Westerner. In America at that time, Sheppard’s lectures provided more than one shock: due to the colour of his skin, black spectators were allowed into theatres for the first time where he appeared, admittedly in the highest balcony. Sheppard’s story testifies, alongside a deep-seated fear for the unknown, to a ubiquitous racism.