A Belgian filmmaker explores her family’s past in Rwanda after she discovers a hidden aunt and an 80-year-old secret.
Editor’s note: this film is no longer available online.
When Belgian filmmaker Nathalie Borgers meets her mixed-race aunt Suzanne who was kept secret from her, she decides to uncover her family’s colonial past.
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Nathalie knows that her grandfather Leon was a Belgian agent working in colonial Rwanda during the 1920s. Like many colonialists, he married a Rwandan woman, who bore him a daughter, Suzanne, and two sons.
At the end of his term, he met and married a young Belgian woman, and returned with her and four-year-old Suzanne to Belgium – abandoning his Rwandan wife and sons.
Suzanne was one among hundreds of children to have been taken away from their homeland in absolute silence. Others were simply abandoned.
Breaking the family’s long silence, Suzanne’s story takes us into a dark world of easy abuse, family secrets and Belgium’s contentious colonial history.
By Nathalie Borgers
Suzanne’s father is my grandfather. She is my aunt.
But until 15 years ago, I had no idea she existed. When I learned about her, by accident, I realised that the secret dominating her life was not only a family taboo but also a national one.
Indeed, mixed-race children born during the colonial era embodied a deep contradiction; intimate relationships between white and black people were rampant in a society built on the idea of the white race’s supposed superiority and “civilising mission”.
Children born from these mixed relationships do not appear in Belgium’s colonial historiography. Yet many were repatriated, often abducted from their mothers, as independence approached, in order to “save the white part of their heritage”.
When I first contacted aunt Suzanne, she was surprised but agreed to meet up with me. She had told me that a few years earlier she had started to write a book in memory of her late father called All the Things I Wanted to Tell You.
When I suggested making a documentary about her story, she saw it as a way to continue this unfinished work.
Through Suzanne’s story, I became interested in how ideologies, and the lies that support them, can exert such influence over our lives.
The social and historical contexts of Leon’s actions, especially the racial theories underlying the entire colonial enterprise, come bubbling to the surface in this very personal film.