Review: Human rights’ importance clear in Amazon “rubber barons” film

embrace

Embrace of the Serpent opens with the image of an Amazonian shaman, Karamakate, dressed in the authentic dress of his people. The man peers out over the river and quickly stands up as if he senses something. Then, a long boat pulls in between the trees with two men on board. Karamakate urges the two men to turn around and leave, but the boat continues to move closer and closer. Then, Karamakate pulls out a weapon and threatens the strangers to leave this place immediately. The audience can sense Karamakate’s tension and distrust of these travellers. Regardless of his warnings, the men do not stop, and the boat pulls ashore.

One man, Manduca, appears to be a native of the Amazon, but he is dressed in what Karamakate describes as “white man clothes.” Manduca refers to the second man, a white scientist from Germany named Theo, as his travel partner, and describes Theo’s rapidly weakening state. Karamakate is resistant to the new men, but his interest is peaked when Theo tells him there are still members of his tribe alive in another part of the jungle. The three men eventually set out on a journey, to find a sacred healing plant that they believe will rid Theo of his illness, and to find Karamakate’s people.

The audience is unaware of exactly what time period the film is set in, but the director provides clues in the form of discussions about white rubber barons coming into the forest and forcing the indigenous people into slavery in order to capitalize on the forest’s rubber trees.

The director skillfully focuses the audience’s attention on the impact the colonization is having on the indigenous people by concentrating on the journey of the men. Each time the men pull onto a riverbank to collect supplies, take a break, or camp for the evening, they meet someone different. With each interaction, the audience gains more insight into the horrors the indigenous people are facing due to the rubber barons, and we learn more about why Karamakate distrusts everyone. At one point, the three men arrive at a mission. This part was particularly interesting and disturbing because these people were stripped of their culture and forced into European practices. The mission consists only of young boys who are wearing white robes and not allowed to speak their native language. It was extremely sad to see all of these boys, taken from their parents at a young age, and forced to forget about their past.

After a while, a second story is skillfully woven into the movie’s plot. This story takes place several years later and involves Karamakate and another white man named Evan. Evan is following the diaries of Theo in order to find the same sacred plant Theo needed to cure his sickness. This second story is even more gut wrenchingly sad than the first, because Evan finds Karamakate in the same place that Theo and Manduca found him, only many years have passed, and Karamakate is still alone. It is clear that Karamakate’s memory is fading as he cannot tell Evan any details about his first trip with Theo and Manduca. But he agrees to help Evan find his way to the sacred plant.

boatAs these two follow the same pathway that Karamakate took many years before with Theo and Manduca, the audience is horrified to discover the lasting impact that the colonization has had on the Amazonian cultures. The most disturbing part of this story occurred when the two men arrived at the mission. They discover that this tribe of people has gone mad from engaging in cannibalism and likely inbreeding given their segregation from others. There are no Europeans left at the mission, so the tribe has taken some of the traditional Christian practices and interpreted them. This includes one man claiming to be Jesus Christ and tribe members forced to commit suicide. This portion of the film left a very powerful image of the horrors that entail when a group of people come into a community, strip them of their history, provide new practices, and then leave them confused and alone.

Until this movie, I had no knowledge about the European invasions of the Amazon to collect rubber, and the impact that this colonization had on the numerous cultures in that part of the world. The film demonstrates the impact on the indigenous people through Karamakate. He is the last remaining member of his tribe. Now, Karamakate has resolved himself to live in solitude where he is engrossed in loneliness. The impact of his solitude is really felt when the movie enters into the second story where Karamakate is the only man, living in the same place, alone, struggling to remember his past, and believing he is merely a shadow of his former self that walks the earth detached from his body. I can imagine many tribes in this region felt a very similar impact on their cultures during this invasion of their land. As their people are killed off, their traditions begin fading with their memories.

In my opinion, the most impactful statement of the whole movie was the dedication at the very end. While these images of death, destruction, and the loss of entire cultures, the director chose to end the film by dedicating the work to the song of those cultures and the songs we will never know. Those words have resonated with my since I saw the film. I am struck with such sadness that entire tribes have been forgotten; it is almost as if they never existed.

I am left thinking about how many times this phenomenon has occurred. Where the world calls for an item, such as rubber, so people invade, kill, and destroy everything in their wake in order to satisfy a desire. This being my first human rights class and my first international law class, this film demonstrated to me, once again, the importance of human rights and the uniting of nations to assure that people are not being stripped of their rights. I always knew that issues like this existed, but I never fully grasped the gravity of some of these events. It is interesting, sometimes it takes a movie based on true events to cause people, like me, to realize how history has a way of repeating itself. If we do not take care and protect people, we will continue to witness travesties such as the ones described in Embrace of the Serpent.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog. Read more about the author, Hannah Coleman, here.)

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Putting the “Woman Question” front and centre: Professor Ruth Rubio Marín

SOU-Ruth

On 5-7 May 2016, the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, hosted the sixth edition of the State of the Union, a space for high-level reflection on Europe. This year, these reflections revolved around the topic of Women in Europe and the World. There were many amazing and strong women who spoke at this conference, such as Valerie Amos and Patricia Sellers, and the various panels featured fascinating discussions on topics such as women in conflict, women and transition in the Middle East, migration, employment and social affairs, or sexual and reproductive politics. One particular highlight of the conference was the State of the Union address on day 2, given by Professor Ruth Rubio Marín (pictured above), who holds the chair of Constitutional and Public Comparative Law at the European University Institute. Her powerful speech was rewarded with what seemed like a never-ending standing ovation. It was well deserved. I highly recommend listening to the address in full, but here are some highlights.

In her speech, Professor Ruth Rubio Marín highlighted the injustices women and girls in Europe and the World face on a daily basis in a very straight forward manner. For those of us working on issues of gender equality and women’s emancipation and rights, the statistics Professor Rubio Marin provided were all too familiar. One in three women will suffer some form of physical or sexual violence at least once during their lifetime, and for one in five women, this violence occurs at the hands of a current or former partner. Yet, only 14 per cent of women report their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police. Women receive only 84 cents to every euro men earn, and the pension gap between women and men is 38 per cent. Working men devote only 9 hours a week to unpaid care and household duties, compared to 26 hours a week for working women. The gap in care responsibilities when high-wage women enter the labour market, is often filled by migrant women, thus perpetuating global (gender) inequalities. Women still account for only 20 per cent of company board members of the largest publicly listed companies, and on average only 28 percent of parliamentarians around the world are women. Androcentric values remain systematically privileged over those traditionally seen as ‘feminine’. As Professor Rubio Marín so rightfully stated: “Oppression does not only happen in cases of a cruel tyrant with bad intentions. Indeed, a well-intentioned liberal society can place system-wide constraints on groups and limit their freedom, relying not only on overt rules but also on unquestioned norms, habits and symbols.”

But what struck me most about her address was her courage and honesty. The personal became the general, the general the personal. When speaking about the by now well-known statistics about the number of women who have suffered some form of physical or sexual violence (1 out of 3), she bravely said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have never said so publicly, but the time has come to unite and end any form of silence. I was one in the ones out of three.” And when addressing the gender pay gap, she directly addressed the president of the European University Institute, Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler, saying: “The gender pay gap is perpetuated by the generalised practice of lack of transparency around payment by almost every employer, including our beloved European University Institute. Dearest president, perhaps the time has come to change that?”

By drawing on these experiences, Professor Rubio Marín made the numbers we so often hear personal, perhaps making it a little easier for those more unfamiliar with the statistics to grasp their meaning. I could not help but notice that the majority of speakers on the second day of the conference, held at Palazzo Vecchio, were men (14 men versus 13 women spoke on day 2). I hope we can count on all of them in the struggle for gender equality, both in Europe and in the World. Women remain an oppressed group, and it is up to all of us together to change that. To paraphrase Professor Rubio Marín: Now, more than ever, we must put the “Woman Question” front and centre, both in Europe and in the World.

  • Listen to Professor Ruth Rubio Marín’s speech in full
  • Get a written copy of the speech

Call for Applications – 11th Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy summer school

Are you interested in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy?

Then this summer school is for you.

CHRA.e-flyer.2016

The call for applications for the 11th Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy summer school, is now open.

More info at: www.chra.ie

Apply at: http://www.chra.ie/apply.php

Email us a query at: info@chra.ie

11th Summer School in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy

16-25 June 2016, Galway, Ireland

This Summer School programme has for the last 10 years attracted young talented filmmakers, human rights professionals, and activists from across the world who wish to engage in an exciting training course where ideas and projects are shared, developed and challenged by fellow participants and internationally acclaimed experts of film, television, photography and human rights. Cinema and Human Rights and Advocacy (CHRA) is a training initiative offered by the Huston School of Film & Digital Media and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, part of the National University of Ireland, Galway. This, the 11th Summer School in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy will run at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media in Galway, Ireland, from 16th to 25th of June 2016.

The Summer School is led by our director Nick Danziger an internationally renowned practitioner in the field of human rights documentary making, and our associate director Claudia Modonesi a human rights expert and media trainer. The 10-day programme consists of eight teaching sessions, workshops and film screenings that combine human rights expertise and media studies. Sessions develop issues relating to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a History of Human Rights Cinema, Freedom of Expression and Censorship, the Use of Video in Human Rights Documentation and Advocacy, Producing Social Documentaries, the Role of Media in Period of Conflict and Production and Distribution of Human Rights Films. Each module is illustrated by film or documentary screenings. Elements of the summer school include information on the fundamentals of human rights, how to raise awareness of human rights on camera, developing a project proposal and how these ideas should be pitched.

This is a unique training opportunity in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy!

APPLY NOW! Deadline for applications is the 30th of April 2016.

Early Bird ends on the 18th of March 2016.

For more information please visit www.chra.ie or email us at info@chra.ie

Social media:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Summer-School-in-Cinema-Human-Rights-and-Advocacy

*Please help us spread the word, by sharing and circulating this message!

*Tweets and social media shares are greatly appreciated!

You can use this link: eepurl.com/bOiHCX 

Thank you.

Dr. Zoi Aliozi

CHRA summer school coordinator

Irish Centre for Human Rights

Cyberlaw conference

As the internet has become ubiquitous, so has cyberlaw grown in importance and influence in our lives. Not one day goes by without hearing and/or reading of legal issues of e-commerce, cloud computing, data protection, intellectual property rights, cybercrime, to name a few. At national level, Governments multiply regulations of the use of internet and new technologies. But increasingly the international dimension of cyberlaw cannot be ignored.

The Cyberlaw Section at the British Society of Legal Studies (SLS) has issued a call for original research papers to be presented at the 2013 SLS Annual Conference from 3rd to 6th September 2013 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. The goal of the SLS Cyberlaw Section is to provide a forum where legal scholars and practitioners can gather together to update each other on current developments in cyberlaw and discuss high-quality research relevant to legal issues in the information society. Papers in every discipline of law are welcome.

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please indicate your interest or submit an abstract (within 300 words) to faye.wang@brunel.ac.uk by the 15th March 2013. More information is available at http://cyberlawsection.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/call-for-papers-2013-2/  or http://sections.legalscholars.ac.uk/news_item.cfm?no=361.

Audrey Guinchard (on behalf of the SLS Cyberlaw Section)’