Captivated in Black Earth: A story shedding light on the prosecution of war criminals during the Rwandan genocide

April 7, 1994 – July 1994.

These dates mark a horrific tragedy formally known as the Rwandan genocide. The Rwandan genocide recorded the highest death toll experienced by an African country, with estimates ranging between 800,000 to nearly 1 million deaths. Ethnic tensions arose between members of the Hutu majority, those of the Tutsi minority, and some Hutu minorities which resulting in the mass-murder of the Tutsis. The Rwandan genocide was made the subject of the British television drama, Black Earth Rising.  Black Earth Rising stars British actress Michaela Coel as Kate Ashby, a 28-year-old Rwandan-born, British legal investigator who was rescued during the genocide.

I don’t want to ruin the plot for anyone, but I encourage you all to watch the series if possible. However, I can provide some background. Black Earth Rising follows the prosecution of international war criminals. Kate Ashby’s adoptive mother, Eve Ashby, is an international barrister who takes on prosecuting General Simon Nyamoya, a former Tutsi corporal who assisted in ending the Rwandan genocide. Kate cannot believe her mother would prosecute a man who helped save Tutsis, like herself, from death. Discontened, Kate joins forces with Michael Ennis — an American barrister and close friend of Eve Ashby — to defend Alice Munezero, a Rwandan government official accused of committing war crimes in Rwanda. Kate’s participation in Alice’s case leads her on a painful journey through her personal history, which begins to uncover the violent effects of the Rwandan genocide.

Although, there are many scenes that define the show, one of the most monumental moments is during the opening episode. In the season opener, we see a young man aggressively questioning Eve Ashby. The young man begins, asking, “What motivates you to vomit up all this neo-colonist bullsh*t?” Eve responds that she is motivated to see justice wherever crime takes place. The man then observes that the 40 war criminals currently being convicted are black Africans. He labels Eve’s job the “latest example of self-righteous Western paternalism.” The dragging doesn’t stop, as he accuses the West of “systematically decimating the African continent of its wealth, government, religions and peoples” through colonialism. The man concludes, stating that it is ridiculous that African countries are expected to turn to the West for justice when African crimes “would not have happened had your world not gone there in the first place”. SHEESH! This prominent scene encapsulates the same frustrations and feelings many Africans have towards colonialism. It is apparent that the young man is fed up with the West’s paternalism when amending the wrongs they caused through colonialism.

Written and directed by Hugo Blick, Black Earth Rising is a must watch as it highlights the tragic events that took place during the Rwandan genocide and its violent aftermath. Often history books overlook the horrendous effects colonialism had on various African countries. Black Earth Rising illustrates colonialism’s effects through the exploration of Kate’s tragic past. One of our very own, the remarkable Micheala Coel, gives an amazing performance. While music, dancing, food and moreare all part of our African cultures, disastrous events, like the Rwandan genocide also define our cultures.

Black Earth Rising is heart-wrenching and difficult to take in at times. The series simultaneously serves as an informative legal thriller, while offering insight into the emotional and physical struggles of colonialized African countries. I highly recommend everyone should check out Black Earth Rising on Netflix. If you are a viewer, I would love to hear your opinions on the show!

Watch the trailer below!

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