Lately I’ve found myself with a lot of free time… actually scratch that, it’s been ongoing for a couple of years now ha! I’m a serial binge-watcher of TV series, especially one’s where the lead actress is a woman of colour like, How To Get Away With Murder; Scandal; In Contempt to name a few however my new found love is – enter stage left – Black Earth Rising. Guys, if you haven’t heard of this show, you need to find it and watch it. I’ve only just discovered it and I am hooked. Now before you carry on reading, know that THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS and is a recap of the first episode of the show as I have decided I am going to do one for each episode because the storyline is so amazing in its complexity.
***Again for the slow to anger type – This contains spoilers so if you want to watch the show itself before I tell you what happens, don’t read any further!!
The show, Black Earth Rising is set in the present-day aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, it reminds us of the massacre of up to a million Tutsis by members of the Hutu majority government over the duration of 100 days highlighting how quickly and gruesomely mankind can revert to its extremes. Right, before I get on with how the episode plays out, can we all just pay homage to how perfectly Leonard Cohen’s song, “You Want It Darker” fits into the series as the opening theme song. The lyrics are so poignant and literally sets the mood. Moving on, there are the three main characters that you need to know in this first episode, they are Kate Ashby who is played by Michaela Cole (the woman is just astonishingly beautiful, that melanin goddess-ness… wait is that even a word, well it is now, is just pouring out of her!), who was rescued as a Tutsi child from the genocide, then adopted by the international lawyer Eve Ashby played by Harriet Walter. -So, the show is set where Kate is now in her late 20s, despite bearing physical scars from her earliest experiences and subsequent mental health issues, and working as a legal investigator in the same chambers as her mother, under the brilliant (enter main character number 3) Michael Ennis who is played by John Goodman.
The opening episode begins with Eve trying to finish a Q&A session following a lecture that she seems quite anxious to depart as she has another appointment. The MC then allows for one last question which kind of backfires on them wanting to end the Q&A session because the young man who speaks is quite hostile towards Eve and criticises her for “vomiting up neo-colonialist bullshit”. I’m going to be honest here, I lifted my hands up and said… Preach!!!! He points out that all of the war criminals currently under investigation are black Africans and marvels at the self-righteousness of a white international system deciding on African crimes that “would not have happened if your world had not happened in the first place”. It’s an accusation that smoulders like a centuries-old fire, and the young man is unimpressed when Eve says that she herself has an adopted African child as if that absolves the sins of the colonisers (insert repeated rolling of eyes).
Eve then leaves the hall and rushes off for her appointment. But before that she’s fighting with the sink with one of her shoes, all her frustration for being called out for being a coloniser-sympathiser being taken out on the sink… The next scene is of Kate at a doctors appointment, which is the appointment that Eve is rushing to. Eve misses it but then Kate goes in on her own. She’s being assessed for a renewal of her prescription drugs and the way she speaks to the doctor you can sort deduce that her character is one who has to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders and therefore her defence mechanism is to come across as sarcastic with a very acerbic sense of humour, she has no filters and speaks her mind, which I think is more to get a reaction if nothing else however her character is clearly very intelligent and at the same time with a very formidable presence which makes you wonder if its hiding her vulnerability because of her childhood experiences. She also has a really cool dress sense which I like because I like quirky fashion choices myself. All this I got from the one scene where she’s speaking to her doctor ha! Yes, I’m invested in this yo!
We then get taken to the next setting which is set on the Democratic Republic of Congo & Rwandan border. There are trucks lined up on the DRC’s side of the bridge and the gate is shut on the Rwandan end. The roads are dusty and somewhat deserted save for the trucks and it just looks grim. A hulk of a man exits one of the trucks and walks across the bridge towards the soldiers guarding the border and yells at them to let his trucks pass. He kind of reminds me of one of my uncles who used to be in the army and who used to yell at us from under the mahogany tree near my grandfather’s house to do our chores. Not the same effect but it made the character relatable to me, and yes I’m digressing as usual… The soldier pulls his rifle on the man before a senior officer from behind calls out to stop. The first man is General Simon Nyamoya, who is the hero of the Tutsi resistance. The senior officer who had stopped the Rwandan soldier from firing on him turns out to be an old friend who seems to be trying to be the peacemaker, his name is David Runihura and he is a special advisor to the Rwandan president. They exchange a few words, Runihara trying to convince Nyamoya that there is no longer a war to be fought. Nyamoya says, until every Hutu general & soldier is caught, he will continue to fight, it’s a highly tense & emotional exchange between the two men – one a resistance fighter and the other a lobbyist/politician in the making. Runihara then passes on the message that his days are numbered as he is now seen as a rebel leader and is being accused of a variety of crimes and must submit himself to the Hague. Nyamoya looks almost defeated like a man who knows his days are numbered and are going to be decided by someone else.
The next scene opens with a press conference in which Runihara is being questioned about why the Rwandan president, Bibi Mundazi, is keeping mum about Nyamoya’s extradition when there are far more worse criminals than him at large and also due to the fact that she has been so critical of the ICC in the past? Runihara’s answers boils it down to that fact that there is pressure from the US and also Rwanda’s intention of wanting to open itself up to overseas investment such as banking & tourism. See how the pressures from the former colonial powers can still impact the development of former colonies??? I mean this TV series is seriously giving me life with its shade and undertones in the script-writing.
With Nyamoya now in the custody of the Hague, the ICC are holding out who should be their chief prosecutor, the woman who is in charge of a so-called list in the ICC reminds me of Edna Mode from the Incredibles, complete with the eye rolls and heavy sighs ha! Anyway with a bit of strong-arming from the head of the US Bureau of African Affairs, Eunice Clayton, (who is on some insane diet that has her always hungry) Eve Ashby is pushed to the top of the list and appointed as the chief prosecutor. There seems to be some sort of hidden agenda to why she’s taking on the case even though it is very personal, her daughter Kate however is so against her prosecuting a Tutsi, and makes the comparison to, as if they were Jewish and the second world war is over but we have decided to prosecute Eisenhower. Kate sees it as her mothers attempt to try and drive a wedge between them and almost force her to become independent. Eve leaves for the Hague the next morning without speaking to Kate however Kate manages to leave a voicemail saying she was sorry for what she had said the night before. It’s quite a heavy and very emotional farewell almost.
Michael Ennis’ character seems like one we will learn more about over the remaining season… I hope. He’s an international lawyer who has clearly seen more than his fair share of atrocities and seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. There’s a scene where he visits his daughter who is in a coma in the hospital and does a changeover of shift with his ex-wife’s new partner. I don’t know why they’re in the show or why theyre being introduced into the show but it must be linked to the entirety of the story. I’m probably reaching but it just seemed random to have them there. Anyway moving on…
Back in the DRC, in North Kivu where the UN are stationed, a blue-bereted major from Quebec is having a mole inspected at a hospital by a local doctor. The doctor offers to remove it for him and says it would take a few minutes at best, but the major declines and says he will get it looked at home by his own doctors as if to imply that the doctor was not qualified or skilled to perform such a task. It carries that unspoken message that yes the black qualified African doctor is only good enough to diagnose but anything beyond that is overreaching his capabilities. Fuck ya coloniser! So they then go to reception so that the major could pay for his medical visit and this is when he catches sight of one Patrice Ganimana, a known war criminal. The major badgers the doctor asking if he knew who that was but the doctor tries to insist he is mistaken. “The fuck I am,” insists the major. He storms out the hospital almost forgetting to pay his medical fees, but the doctor yells at him to pay… Pay your dues coloniser!!! Well something along those lines. Later he tries, without success, to interest his younger, French superior to go after Ganimana. One young corporal, however, does appear to be interested, staring at a wanted photo of the war criminal and this where things go horribly wrong…
The major takes matters into his own hands and organises a raid on Ganimana, only to find his way barred by his French superior, who pulls a gun on him, you kind of wonder why the hell is this French officer so hellbent on protecting this war criminal??!! It brings to surface discussion points on how the French played a role in supporting the Hutu majority government that escalated the genocide, I'm going off tangent from the TV show by the way so I might be inviting a lot of animosity towards my going beyond a simple recap. Anyway, during that altercation, two shots ring out on the property from the tennis court. They run towards it to find that the corporal has cuffed one of the players but he lies dying from gunshot wounds which have been inflicted by the player on the opposite side of the court after the corporal fired at him. To add to the tragedy, the man the corporal has tried to apprehend is not Ganimana, big mistake that white people seem to make… thinking that all black people look the same (insert a barrage of eye roll emoji immediately!)
The last scene to end the episode features a shot of a black masked mannequin clad in white sat at a table being riddled with bullets as if the people firing are preparing for some sort of assassination. Begs the question, who is to die, why are they being killed off so early in the season, I mean guys, it's only the first episode and I need to find out so many things!!
You’ve probably guessed by reading all the way to end that I have become invested in this show and I am probably going to binge watch the next three episodes because it’s already on episode 4 now! Black Earth Rising looks set to be a grimly worthwhile, multifaceted and nuanced drama in which long-held secrets are uncovered as bloody violence continues to be executed by those who wish for the past to remain in the past.
Stay tuned to read my recap for episode 2, probably in the next day or so because... hello again my old friend unemployment!