First published on the Red Pepper website on Thursday 20 October 2011
It’s a sunny day and a small, blonde girl is picking flowers in her garden. The rest of her family, are arriving home from school, cleaning and washing the car. It’s a picture of middle England tranquillity, a large rural house and a close-knit family.
Within two minutes they are under attack leading to brutal rape, humiliation and murder, a regular occurrence in the Democratic Republic of Congo where nearly one woman a minute suffers some form of sexual abuse. The film uses an old campaigning trick to try to get Western audiences to take action on issues abroad. It asks what if this happened to someone you know? What if it happened to your family?
The film is definitely shocking, as the title suggests, and Save The Congo and filmmakers Black Jack and Dark Fibre are hoping it will shock people into taking action. The film is attempting to highlight the link between violence and rape in the DRC and mobile phones. As the film is only available through the official site, they are careful to make sure there is always some context but the link between the story and mobile phones (explained by text at the end of the film) is not immediately clear without some digging around the website. It’s also arguable that making the film so graphic and not widely available will restrict how far their message spreads.
Hunger for DRC’s natural resources has had a negative effect on its citizens and like many countries in the global south natural resources have proved a curse instead of a blessing. The basis of the Unwatchable campaign is that minerals mined in the DRC have been financing the war which has seen over five million deaths in the country since 1998 and led to mass rape. DRC is rich in minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten that are all used in the manufacture of mobile phones as well as other electronic equipment such as games consoles.
These minerals pass through many hands before reaching the multinationals and money can get into violent hands. Over 90% of mines in eastern Congo are controlled by armed groups or sections of the army that have ‘gone solo’. As prices and demand rise there is more to bargain with; minerals are either bought directly from armed groups or from miners who pay taxes to warlords in order to mine. They are then sold on to traders who export the minerals to smelting companies for refining and ultimately to factories for manufacture. Unwatchable calls for more transparency in the process and an end to ‘blood minerals’.
Rape is used as a cheap and effective way to force populations to leave areas, or destroy communities and gain control of these lucrative minerals. While mass genocide would often provoke decisive action from the international community mass rape does not. Congo has now been named one of the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.
Mobile phones are now seen as a necessity in the UK so the team behind the film are hoping that the connection of the industry to the events shown will galvanise people into action, seeing another away that their lives are affecting those elsewhere, and not for the better.
The main call to action, which comes at the end of the film, is a petition urging the EU to introduce legislation to stop mobile phone manufacturers buying conflict minerals as well as contacting their mobile phone manufacturer to demand they make sure they are not using blood minerals by publishing details of their supply chain.
The plot for Unwatchable is based on the true story of Masika and her family. Masika’s husband was mutilated and murdered, her daughters gang raped and Masika herself was raped over twenty times and forced to eat her husband’s dismembered penis. Masika was left unconscious and developed fistula. Traumatic fistula is often suffered by women in the DRC after violent rape. If it remains untreated it can lead to dangerous infection, incontinence, restriction of mobility and a nasty smell. These effects can lead to women, who have already undergone severe trauma, being ostracised from communities ans left immobile.
Maskia’s story is actually far more horrific than the one in the film and the video of her telling it on the website is incredibly powerful, coming directly from the person affected. Unwatchable is not the only recent film to highlight the issue of blood minerals. Blood In The Mobile is soon to be released which explores the relationship between minerals, violence and rape in DRC.
Although only just over six minutes long the production of Unwatchable is slick and you can tell it has some big Hollywood names behind it including composer David Arnold, cinematographer Michael Bonvillian and Mark Wolf. Film can be a good way to get an issue into people’s consciousness but there needs to be a clear link between calls to actions and horrific stories. Unless a film does this it doesn’t matter whose ‘eyes’ it is told through, people will still shrug it off as ‘just another tragedy’ they can’t do anything about.