Hugo Blick discusses the aftermath of the genocide, what went wrong with the International Criminal Court—and why he's wary of returning to Rwandaby Steve Bloomfield / October 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
Never has a British drama series managed to portray a period of African history with such seriousness, with such care and with such intelligence as Black Earth Rising.
To describe it simply as a legal thriller about the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath is to do it an injustice. It’s about French complicity in the genocide; about the new Rwandan government’s reprisals in neighbouring Zaire (as Congo was then known); about Rwanda’s subsequent support for Tutsi militia in Congo and its links to the mineral trade; about the way the Rwandan president abuses laws on divisionism and sectarianism to shut down almost all opposition.
It’s about the International Criminal Court and its seeming emphasis on African cases, about the West’s role in choosing which of these cases ever come to trial, about the ease with which those cases that do get as far as The Hague can be brought down with impunity—and deadly violence—by those who want them to be undermined.
And it’s about the West’s guilt over the Rwandan genocide: our refusal to intervene and our wariness about criticising the new regime that ended the violence and rebuilt the country, yet cracked down on opposition, dissent and—ultimately—democracy itself.
Most of all though, it’s about remembrance and forgetting.
As the main character, Kate Ashby, a survivor of the crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and what was then known as Zaire in the mid-1990s, says in the final episode, “we have a duty to memory.” And yet, as she is told later, “everyone has bits of their past they choose to forget.”
This interview with Hugo Blick—the writer, producer and director of Black Earth Rising—which took place over phone and email earlier this month, has been edited and condensed.
Prospect: Let’s start at the beginning. How did the idea for this drama emerge?
Blick: While I was doing research for An Honourable Woman [Blick’s 2014 thriller starring Maggie Gyllenhall set in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian context] I touched upon the Nuremberg trials. I came back to it after An Honourable Woman, researched the International Criminal Court, and then went there [The Hague].
The long and short of it that surprised me was that the formal indictments that the ICC had issued are against Africans, and further…