Streaming Review

African Apocalypse review – grappling with the heart of darkness

Rob Lemkin's documentary of colonial ghosts is a superb piece of historiography that's slightly let down by a sloppy framing device

In a recent report, the UN declared that, of the 189 countries surveyed, Niger was the least developed. African Apocalypse takes that statistic and traces its origins back to one colonial mission, the blood-soaked 1898 march of French captain Paul Voulet. Rob Lemkin’s documentary follows Black British poet and activist Femi Nylander as he follows Voulet’s route through Niger, talking to local residents about the traumas left by this conquest.

As a piece of research, African Apocalypse is fascinating. Femi encounters Nigeriens whose grandparents had direct contact with Voulet, and his interviews with them have a visceral power, expressing the anger and disgust of an entire nation. Not only did the “Scramble For Africa” leave unhealable wounds and cruel ironies – schoolchildren have to express their hatred for France in French – but Europe’s mistreatment of Niger continues today.

Townspeople tell Femi he’s the first person to ever come and research their history, while local workers describe the hideous conditions of working in French-owned uranium mines as recently as 2014. It’s a damning indictment of Europe’s refusal to reckon with its colonial past, let alone atone for it.

This study of Niger and its past is just one part of African Apocalypse, which also functions as a personal essay by Femi, coming to terms with his identity as a black European through this journey and the way it relates to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This half of the film is a lot less successful, relying on a strained and overwritten voiceover.

The historiography here is hugely impressive, but the way it’s strung together sometimes feels lifted straight from a student film. Imperfect execution aside, African Apocalypse is a vital look at the barbaric consequences of colonialism that gives important insight into a country often overlooked on the world stage.

African Apocalypse is now streaming on BFI Player.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

True Mothers review – intermittently engaging melodrama

The latest from Sweet Bean filmmaker Naomi Kawase tells the story of an unconventional adoption but feels stretched at 140 minutes

Valley of Souls review – stylish and affecting journey through divided Columbia

An extraordinary first-time performance anchors a raw and mythic story of a father searching for the bodies of his murdered sons

Promising Young Woman review – an electric exploration of grief

Carey Mulligan is devastating in Emerald Fennell’s disorienting story of love, violence, and pain that refuses to give easy answers

Songs My Brothers Taught Me review – Chloé Zhao’s deeply moving debut

Finally granted a UK release six years after its festival debut, this drama lays the groundwork for its director's future masterworks

Features

Best Films to Stream This Week in the UK

With cinemas still closed, we highlight the best new streaming releases, from Oscar nominees to a monster romance

Stream With a Theme: The Best Time Loop Films

To mark the arrival of Palm Springs on Prime Video, we highlight the cinematic time loops worth putting on repeat...

Angelina Jolie Fights Fire (and Assassins) In the Trailer For Those Who Wish Me Dead

The new film from Sicario director Taylor Sheridan centres on a fire warden who must help a young boy escape ruthless killers

Every MonsterVerse Film, Ranked

As Godzilla vs. Kong arrives on digital platforms, we cast our gaze back to this mega franchise's hits and misses to date...