By Madalyn McKnight
In one of the first scenes of the show, Michaela Coel’s character (Kate) lifts her shirt up to show the scarred skin from a wound that once hurt her physically but still scars her emotionally and mentally. She exclaims to her adopted mother, “Take a long hard look at it. This is what they did to me”. She is reflecting on her early childhood as a survivor of the Rwandan genocide that occurred in the mid-1990s and claimed the lives of more than 800,000 men, women, and children. This horrendous series of events are not taught in many history classes. I learned about the genocide after watching the movie “Hotel Rwanda” starring my favorite actor, Don Cheadle. The research that took place after seeing that movie really exposed me to the horrors that were taking place in what seemed like a world away.
Although Black Earth Rising is a fictional show, the events that precede this storytelling are way too real, in a not-so-distant past. It is hard to believe that before the tragic events of 9/11, the Rwandans fighting for their lives and control of their country also took place in my lifetime. I can only imagine the pain felt by those who are directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy that was neglected by western aid and western media.
In this story, Kate is an adopted refugee who grew up to be an investigator with a mysterious and painful past that she will come to face head-on by the end of the series. To start, Kate’s mother takes on a case that challenges right and wrong concerning events that occurred during the unrest that caused the genocide and through the support of key role players, secrets are uncovered that were held and buried for over 30 years. It is up to Kate to bring knowledge and exposure to a past that will help Rwandans and herself heal from covered wounds. Although the series starts slow, it builds anticipation for a finale where the viewer roots for solace and understanding. A happy ending is asking for too much. The scars that Kate bears are a reminder of how pain has no expiration date.
I am not a critic. I am also an African-American who has not experienced this level of tragedy nor am I in a place to judge the authenticity of any real events portrayed in this fictional story. I simply want to address that all that went wrong when both the Hutu and Tutsi tribes erupted in warfare, should have a written the code for “what not to do” in civil unrest, and definitely should not have been an event I stumbled on. It should have been purposeful teaching in at least ONE of the many courses I have taken throughout my academic career! As with many tragedies on the continent of Africa, the attention of others around the world turns deaf and mute, leaving many vulnerable and innocent victims’ memories to tell the tale. The show struggles with revealing more about the characters’ background and more about what brought them all together but effectively tells how powerful the voice of a black woman in unrest is.
At one point in the story, Kate is in Rwanda, visiting memorials dedicated to the victims and as she walks through the pews of a church with blood-stained clothing, she stops at an altar with a beheaded Jesus, riddled in bullets. The influence of western civilization is clear, but the lack of western intervention is even clearer.
The world has failed the continent of Africa in more ways than I am able to name. Its resources pillaged, its landscape tainted, but its people more resilient than ever. Black history month is a chance to remind ourselves where we have been and that we have so far to go. Civil rights are not an American issue. Being black with skin that is weaponized in the media is a WORLD issue. The soil stained with our blood will bear the fruit that tales the tale. And one day everyone who has refused to hear will have no choice. Here’s to the rise of the Black Earth.
*Featured image credit: Netflix
Madalyn McKnight is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC.