Raoul Peck’s four-hour documentary on HBO Max reveals the racist underpinnings of American national mythology and European society.
Drawing on archival material and the work of historians, the film distills the legacies of colonialism and racism.Photograph courtesy HBO
By Richard Brody, April 9, 2021
The new four-part series by Raoul Peck, “Exterminate All the Brutes,” that’s streaming on HBO Max belongs to an exceptional genre: it is, in effect, an illustrated lecture, or a cinematic podcast.
Which is to say that it’s an essay-film, a film of ideas, that are for the most part expressed by Peck himself, in his own voice-over, which nearly fills the movie’s soundtrack from start to finish.
The four-hour film is in the vein of Peck’s previous essay-film, “I Am Not Your Negro,” which focuses on James Baldwin’s work. “Exterminate All the Brutes” is similarly an intellectual effort.
And, like “I Am Not Your Negro,” it introduces and distills, from Peck’s own perspective, extant writings, this time by three historians who study colonialism and racism. Unlike the earlier film, though, the new one doesn’t offer much in the way of film clips from the writers themselves, and doesn’t (at least, doesn’t claim to) quote directly from their work. It is literally a film in Peck’s voice, and that strength, and that audacity, also gives rise to its artistic peculiarities.