Raoul Peck is an international Haitian filmmaker, a political activist, and a director. He is known for implementing historical and personal characters to narrate societal issues and historic events. Some of his most popular works include the Oscar nominated I Am Not Your Negro (2016), along with HBO’s Exterminate All The Brutes (2021), Sometimes In April (2005), and Haitian Corner (1987).
In 1953, Peck was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Due to countless persecutions during the Duvalier regime his family fled Haiti in exile. In 1961 at eight years old, Peck and his family arrived in the newly independent Republic of the Congo in Western Africa. Peck completed his early education in Haiti and the Congo. Moreover, he temporarily studied in Brooklyn, New York before transferring to high school in France. In continuing with his education, Peck went to Germany to study industrial engineering and economics at Berlin University. After completing his undergraduate in 1982, Peck applied to attend a film program at the Berlin Film and Television Academy. Soon after, Peck was accepted and admitted to the film program at the Berlin Academy. Furthermore, in 1988 Peck earned his Master’s of Fine Arts in Film.
Although, Peck has established himself as an international filmmaker and appears to be one of his generations most well known intellectuals, over the past 20 years. Haitian-born Raoul Peck has worked as a New York City taxi-driver, a journalist and photographer. In addition, to working as a Minister of Culture in Haiti from 1996 to September 1997. However, for Peck, it is his art that profoundly signifies him. “I consider myself first an artist. My work is about my creativity—why I create and not for whom. I hope to touch as many people as possible. My concern is not to be marginalized and at the same time not to compromise. I’m between those two lines,” Peck told Indiewire.
Living with his family in the Congo, Peck’s has witnessed a lot of political instability. For example, Patrice Lumumba, former Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was assassinated in 1961. That same year Peck arrived in Congo and his 2000 documentary film, Lumumba: Death of a Prophet walk us through that event. The film reflects on the assasination of African political leader Patrice Lumumba, the betrayal of his fellow associates and the outside forces that were involved in his elimination including the African officials that carried out his execution. The movie did not blame the U.S., the UN, the Belgium government nor the African people that were complicit in the assassination. It’s rather an informative biography of Patrice Lumumba’s rise to power and the complex layers that were involved in Lumumba’s demise.
In 1987, Peck directed his first feature film, Haitian Corner, a fictional story about the life of a Haitian immigrant in New York who becomes obsessed with finding the man who tortured him on behalf of the Duvalier regime. The film is in Haitian Creole, for the most part and the main character is convinced that his torturer is also in New York. Due to distress and torment, he quit his job, isolated himself from his family, friends and sabotaged a potential romantic relationship with a childhood friend. Throughout the film, the main character appears lost and extinct from thyself. The torture caused him so much pain and triggers his motive to search for healing and closure. I could argue that the depiction of the trauma could possibly emphasize the citizens experience during and after the Duvalier regime. Therefore, the regime might have inspired him to create this film as a reflection of that aftermath, since Peck is known for utilizing historical events to tell stories.
In these films, Lumumba in 2001 and Sometimes in April in 2005, Peck dissect the trauma and the horror of the late stages of postcolonialism, imperialism and decolonialism. His fearless demonstration of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 are extremely profound and empowering. You can see examples of this kind of story telling Peck’s filmography, works like The Man by the Shore (1993), Desounen: Dialogue with Death (1994), Haiti: The Silence of the Dogs (1994), Chere Catherine (1998), and Corps Plonges (1998). Peck’s dedication and commitment to foster a long-lasting legacy that’s based on the historical trauma of African people was well depicted in Haitian Corner and Lumumba: Death of a Prophet but his work does not end there.
One of his latest feature films, I Am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin is a remarkable representation of the current racial issue we are facing in our society in regard to race division. I Am Not Your Negro, explores the life of James Baldwin and the historical racial conflict in the United States. In the film, Peck demonstrated several of the past protest that have taken place due to police brutally of unarmed young Black boys and men. Peck’s mentioned in an interview that, “Growing up James Baldwin helped him understand the legitimacy of what it means to be Black. Baldwin work helped him to comprehend himself and the world.” I Am Not Your Negro, displays how far Black people have come as a people, but how far we still must go because we are still experiencing racial issues.
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