Two generations of anti-colonial rebels in a scene from Concerning Violence

Next week, Columbus viewers will get the chance to see Selma, a smart and impassioned film about a pivotal moment in America’s Civil Rights Movement.

While they’re waiting, they may want to check out the documentary Concerning Violence, a collection of film footage shot during the 1960s and ’70s. Though it’s set in colonial Africa rather than the United States, the underlying racial inequities are all too similar.

Subtitled Nine Scenes From the Anti-Imperialist Self-Defense, the documentary takes us to various countries that were ruled by European governments or business interests. The vintage footage, shot for Swedish television and compiled by Swedish director Goran Hugo Olsson (The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975), offers a diverse look at an era of African upheaval.

Several revolutionaries talk about the lengths they’ve gone to in their fight for freedom—and the lengths their government has gone to in its attempt to suppress them. A smattering of graphic images underscore their words.

In the opening shots, a soldier in a helicopter turns his rifle on grazing cattle owned (we assume) by hostile farmers. Later, a young woman breastfeeds her baby after recently losing an arm (again, we assume) due to an attack by government forces.

A few interviews focus on those who support and benefit from the European-dominated status quo.

In one segment, a white Rhodesian talks nervously of the new attitude exhibited by his black countrymen, including his servants. They seem certain that one day what’s his will be theirs, he says.

In another, a Scandinavian missionary and his wife talk about their attempts to bring Christianity to a Tanzanian village and rid the people of such customs as polygamy. The unseen interviewer is surprisingly provocative, even asking whether their defense of monogamy is supported by the Bible.

Perhaps the most affecting segment tells the story of Liberian workers who go on strike, only to be met with a harsh military response. The company decides to make an example of one suspected strike leader, and both the man and his family pay the consequences.

Though the film is fascinating and instructive, it also has a didactic personality that may put off some viewers. That’s because director Olsson seems unwilling to let the archival footage speak for itself. Instead, the images are accompanied by Lauryn Hill’s narration of words from the book The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.

Given the film’s title, it’s not surprising that much of this narration deals with violence as a tool of both suppression and liberation. Colonialism is instituted in violence, Hill states, and “can only yield when confronted by even greater violence.” It’s a theme that is repeated over and over.

Does this attitude distinguish the African anti-colonial struggle from the American Civil Rights Movement? After all, the U.S. struggle was dominated by Martin Luther King Jr. and his doctrine of nonviolent protest. Then again, as Selma points out, even King was not above using violence—his opponents’ violence—as a strategic tool for change.

At any rate, the goals of both movements remained substantially the same: dignity, equality and freedom.

Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)

Concerning Violence (not rated) opens Friday (Jan. 2) at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus.