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Unwatchable: film brings rape and violence to the Cotswolds


Julie Tomlin
WVoN co-editor

Two actresses have explained why they took part in a controversial project depicting the violence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) set in the leafy Cotswolds.

Angela Dixon and Thea Wellband star in Unwatchable, a film made with the support of not-for-profit organisation, Save the Congo.

The film highlights the link between minerals mined for British mobile phones and the use of rape and murder as weapons of war in the DRC.

The film has an all-star crew including composer David Arnold and director Mark Wolf, who have worked on films such as Casino Royale, Independence Day and the Harry Potter series.

Unwatchable aims to motivate people to hold mobile phone companies accountable by signing a petition. A line at the end of the film says: “You have the power to demand your mobile phone manufacturer stops using blood minerals”.

Actress Angela Dixon said on the film’s website that she took part because she wanted the violence in the DRC to stop and was concerned to what extent our “blind consumerism” is culpable.

“[…]what has to happen in order for us to take responsibility for making sure that we are not part of the problem.

“I hope that ‘Unwatchable’ will help to bring these distant issues to our consciousness, promote individual reflection and prompt action to stop our complicity.”

The film, which contains the warning that it contains “sexualised violence you and your mobile phone manufacturer may find disturbing”, is based on the experiences of Masika, a businesswoman whose life was shattered when soldiers attacked her home in 1998 and killed her husband and raped her and her daughters.

The film transfers some of her horrific experience of rape to a mansion in a picturesque Cotswolds village.

Wellband said that the film overrides the “survival mechanism” by which we tend to block out what’s happening in the world and tell ourselves that it doesn’t affect us.

“The brilliance behind Unwatchable is to remove that shroud of ignorance by making the situation relatable.

‘If you arrived at school one morning, for the desk next to you to be empty, and the explanation was that her parents had been murdered and she had been brutalised to the point of death, it would chill your soul.”

Because of the content, the film cannot be posted on Youtube, but the campaign group behind it hope that it will go viral – there is a player on the website the makers hope will be shared on Twitter, embedded in blogs and posted on Facebook.

The film has provoked a great deal of debate, with arguments ranging from whether the filmmakers have gone too far to whether the link between violence and minerals for mobile phones is too simplistic.

While the film clearly has the support of at least one woman in the DRC, it also raises questions about whether Europeans can only be expected to empathise if world events are made personal to them in some way.

Would it have been better to film Masika telling her story?  Or is it the case, as Jonathan Glennie argues, that we need to be “reminded of what is happening in other parts of the world, to shake us from our daily routine, and to galvanise us” to act?

He writes: “Some of the film’s critics have implied that its images are unacceptable because they make you feel uncomfortable or ill.

“But the sensitivities of those watching the film are not of particular concern when the issue is so important.

“It strikes me that some would simply prefer the realities of war not to be brought home to a western public living relaxed lives on a seemingly different planet.

“I think they should be – we should be reminded of what is happening in other parts of the world, to shake us from our daily routine, and to galvanise us into response.”

Unwatchable carries an 18-certificate and contains scenes of sexualised violence that viewers may find disturbing.

Remember – you can sign the petition here.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    Does what it should, shocks us out of the inertia that so many of us feel when reading about rape and brutality in far off lands. I felt sick when watching this and still do, but it’s the reality that’s shocking … and the inertia. Please sign.

  2. I haven’t seen this yet but the comment from Jonathan Glennie is completely irrelevant and conforms with the usual male gaze trope which objectifies what it sees and allows the audience to remain distant from the subject.

    Women and men need to be able to relate to the awfulness of this situation in a context they can identify with – otherwise it becomes ‘something that is happening over there’.

    Which is the point of the film really, which this guy obviously misses.

    • vicki wharton says:

      I think Jonathan Glennie is actually talking about the objectification of the Western gaze when talking about violence overseas and that this is what the film actually seeks to bypass. I think his comments are supportive of the film if I understand him correctly. Beware, it is very very shocking to view.

      • It is. He’s also not wrong that the images are unacceptable – this shouldn’t happen, there should be nothing like that in the world to portray.

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