Tuesday, March 3, 2015

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Unwatchable: Consumers Complicit in the DRC Conflict?

A shocking short film raises awareness of DRC conflict materials, rape and their links to the technology we use.
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Unwatchable: the youngest daughter of the family being attacked tries to escape.

For a film that only lasts six minutes, Unwatchable leaves a deep imprint on the viewer’s mind. The film, commissioned by the charity Save the Congo, aims to highlight the issue of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the links between this violence and ‘conflict materials’ – i.e. minerals mined in war zones and used in the production of items such as phones, computers and jewellery. Based on the true story of a girl called Massika, Unwatchable forces the viewer to question whether their own material possessions are funding violence.

The film

The film takes the true story of an incident of horrific rape, torture and murder from the DRC and relocates it to an idyllic rural English mansion. A military team swoop down into the house, bringing destruction to a happy, affluent English family. The reason behind the attack remains unclear, but the violence is prolonged, grotesque and relentless.

Unwatchable subjects its audience to six minutes of ultra-violence, rape and murder and, according to its makers, aims to “offend...to draw you in and leave you an emotional wreck”. And by subverting the setting from the DRC to an English country mansion sets out to raise awareness of the inextricable linkages between the violence in the DRC and the lifestyles of consumers in the West and elsewhere. The film aims to draw attention to the fact that rape is used as a tool of war in the DRC to gain control of a mining industry which supplies and is funded by distant consumers and manufacturers.

Marc Hawker, co-director of DarkFibre films which produced Unwatchable, told Think Africa Press that he was motivated to create the film after being introduced to Massika’s story: “I was shocked by this personal account and then further shocked by the scale of the violence and the link between the violence and conflict materials”.

Contributing to conflict?

The composite materials found in conflict materials: tantalum, tungsten, tin (the 3Ts) and gold are essential to the manufacturing industry. These materials are found readily in the DRC. The proceeds of mining these materials are sold back to insurgents who buy weapons and other elements necessary for conflict. As consumers, we indirectly contribute to the DRC conflict by purchasing technological goods. And as manufacturers, we are indirectly responsible by sourcing these materials from conflict areas.

In 2009, of the 13 major mines in Eastern DRC, 12 were controlled by armed groups. Additionally, of the 270 pounds of gold that was exported legally in 2008, an estimated 11,000 pounds was in actual production.

It is widely believed that armed groups who benefit economically from controlling lucrative mines also use rape as a tool of war and in Unwatchable we are confronted with the fact that DRC has the highest rate of rape and sexual violence in the world. It is, after Afghanistan, the second most dangerous place to be a woman in the world, and has been called the “rape capital of the world” by Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict. And, ranked 5th in the 2010 Failed State Index, the events depicted in Unwatchable are sadly not uncommon occurrences.

Indeed we often read about circumstances such as this rape. Unwatchable transports the viewer to truly consider rape situations such as Massika’s to be physically sickened by them, and to truly contemplate a situation of daily physical violation, which serves as a tactic, a tool, a strategy.

The enigma of shock

Despite this, is the directness of Unwatchable the right way to go about informing and mobilising people of this information?

“The rape scene was done in one take”, explained Hawker, adding “Everyone was shaking. The actors playing the soldiers too. They were shocked at what they had just done and spent the rest of the day apologising to Thea, the wonderful actress who played the teenage girl.”

Jane Martinson wrote in The Guardian that she supported the message of the film, but questioned whether such shock tactics are necessary, arguing that they might prevent charities from aligning themselves with the cause, and deter people from watching the film in the first place.

She went on to say that despite the film making her want to sign the petition, it did not make her want to tell her friends (although she did feel fit to write an article in a newspaper with an average yearly readership of over one million people).

Translating complex realities is not always easy, but Unwatchable serves as an effective first step to getting audiences to take action, such as signing petitions or writing to manufacturers – all of which are publicised on the website.

Expose and demand

A common theory behind the eradication conflict materials is that a two pronged approach of expose and demand is required. Unwatchable attempts to do both of these things.

Firstly, the practice of conflict materials, their production and effect must be exposed. As Hawker went on to tell Think Africa Press:

“I think we can, by making this issue as public as possible and showing the reality of the horror created by the purchase of conflict minerals, put real pressure on companies to clean up their act. A company values its brand above everything else. If that is tarnished, the companies know that this affects sales and therefore profit.”

Secondly, the market for conflict-free materials needs to be promoted, thereby increasing demand. Apple, in their 2011 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, voiced a dedication to social responsibility, firstly by mapping their supply chain to smelting level and secondly by auditing smelters of the 3Ts and gold, to validate conflict-free sources.

Mark Hawker continued: “I believe we need to...demand that [companies] change their procedures, not just to stop acquiring minerals from the Congo, but to take the more complicated steps of supporting the legitimate Congolese mining industry. But we have to place that pressure on the companies who make the products that we enjoy so much.”

Your response to Unwatchable may be different to mine, but after watching the film I could not stop shaking. Unwatchable slaps us in the face with the fact that 48 women are raped in DRC per hour, that rape is a weapon of war, and that our tools of mass communication today, may be by-products of this.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com

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Really interesting article which brings up some valid points on the effectiveness of such a schocking film. After watching it myself, I find that it does bring awareness of the issue, however it does so in a slightly superficial way. An uninformed watcher would now be more aware of the attrocities associated with minerals in the Congo, but not necessarily be aware of how this is occurs, and what political and economic factors are involved other than brute violence. Nonetheless, the key point that such violence would be much less tolerable if it happened to a European family comes across quite well, demonstrating how passive we can all be about attrocities elsewhere in the world. 

Less tolerable if it happened to a European family?Are you saying if you saw the exact same film with a family of a different ethnicity it would be more tolerable? Did it really help having in that Hollywood-esque style - are we so passive to reality that watching the story in a documentry style wouldn't move us in the same way?This film is pure fucking masturbatory indulgence. It, quite unnecessarily, commodifies someone elses suffering.  If it is designed to raise awareness - why is the most significant point tagged on at the end in?**Oh yeah - this also happened/kind of thing happens in the Congo..but we are targetting predominantly very middle-class bourgeious whites with this film, and, their rascist tendencies mean that they are generally uninterested/unmoved by documentries showing African's going through such traumas. So we have just ripped off an experience of an Congolese woman, indulged in some cinematic creativity and our desire to bear witness to suffering. There it is something that almost makes penetrates through the numb banality to touch us, to make us feel something. But you know - not too real...On Multiple levels this film is fucking abohorrent.