31 October 2018

Rwanda: Black Earth Rising - a Nuanced Portrayal of Rwanda's Complex Post-Genocide History

Photo: Black Earth Rising
Black Earth Rising centres on the legacy of the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
analysis

Portrayals of Rwanda's recent history on TV and in film can often spark controversy. For many Rwandans, the central question is whether their country is being fairly presented, and if the programme promotes any form of genocide denial.

The BBC series Black Earth Rising is likely to face similar scrutiny from Rwandan elites within the government and civil society. The eight-episode television drama follows a legal investigator named Kate Ashby (played by the British actress Michaela Coel) who becomes ensnared in the complex international criminal justice system. Rather than promoting or illustrating genocide denial, the series instead discusses the arguments and condemns any form of it.

What makes this series interesting is how it presents the complexity of Rwandan history without taking sides. Rwandan studies can be divided into two categories - either overly favourable or overly critically of the politics and policies of the current government, led by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and its leader, president Paul Kagame.

Black Earth Rising is able to illustrate arguments from both camps without demonising their supporters. Through a fictional retelling it portrays real historical events, including the Rwandan genocide (also referred to as the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi), Rwandan participation in two subsequent wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the country's post-reconciliation period. These are explained by both crediting successful government policies as well as criticising those that have failed.

Such a holistic approach to explaining recent Rwandan history has often been lacking in previous television and film coverage of the country, such as the contentious 2014 BBC documentary, Rwanda's Untold Story, which the Rwandan government criticised for promoting genocide revisionism. Within Rwanda, genocide denial in any form is illegal. The 2004 film Hotel Rwanda was also criticised for not being historically accurate.

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Black Earth Rising - A Nuanced Portrayal of Rwanda's Complex Post-Genocide History

The BBC drama about Rwanda tackles post-genocide events in a way few dramas or documentaries have done before. Read more »

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