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Movie Review: 'Exterminate All The Brutes' Is A Massively Important Documentary


Spike Lee has said no person of color has ever asked him why Mookie threw the trash can through the window in Do the Right Thing. It’s only been white people. I thought of this and the extreme disconnect in perception and understanding between the oppressed and their oppressors while I was watching Raoul Peck’s four-part HBO series Exterminate All the Brutes, a furious, exhausting indictment of the colonialist, racist, genocidal history of white Europeans and Americans.


That this history exists is now no secret, but Peck reveals the sheer scope of the savagery by tracing its roots back to the Crusades, before beginning his story in earnest with Columbus’ arrival in the West Indies and going on from there to depict the apocalyptic level of destruction and human commodification perpetrated across the globe over the last 600 years. He describes how the malleable idea of “whiteness” and race as a hierarchical organizer were created to justify all of this, and how genocide goes far beyond mass killing and into erasure of culture—the powerful choose which stories we know and which are ignored, and so we end up venerating homicide and relegating genuinely world-changing events like the Haitian revolution to questions on Jeopardy!


The work is narratively and stylistically complicated, using archival footage, animation, fictional situations, and a dozen other techniques to tell a story that hops around in time—which can be jarring in the moment, but eventually comes into focus by showing us that it’s all part of the same story, a story of white culture taking its ability to murder on a global scale—often for money—and mistaking that for intellectual, cultural, and biological superiority. And so by the end of Exterminate All the Brutes, when Raoul Peck lays bare that we cannot blame all of this on simple ignorance, the film leaves us with the horrifying question: if it’s not knowledge we lack, what part of us is it that is missing?

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.