Step into any British university literature department and a debate on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness will be in full force. Is it a thoughtful examination of European imperialism, or a racist relic that perpetuates colonialism’s very tools? With critics as notable as Chinua Achebe and champions as numerous as, well, most white male academics, Heart of Darkness has long been a byword for literary controversy.

Despite using Conrad’s seminal work as a framework to explore the legacy of European colonialism in Niger, African Apocalypse neatly side steps the raging storm surrounding the novel. Here, Heart of Darkness becomes an ur-text of racial violence, with writer and presenter Femi Nylander drawing parallels between the novel’s villain Mr Kurtz and real life French imperialist Captain Paul Voulet, extracts narrated with audiobook-like theatrics.

This disengagement is emblematic of a broader hesitation in Nylander and director Rob Lemkin’s documentary, which admirably sheds light on the continuing underrepresented effects of European colonialism, yet refuses to fully unpack its conclusions. There is an air of BBC documentary about the proceedings, which diminishes Nylander’s personal connection to the subject matter and keeps the horror at a clinical distance. Nylander is an indisputably dynamic figure, with an impressive background of activism as part of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, yet his reliance on such institutional forms of knowledge production and expression is uncharacteristically meek, subduing the bold potential glimpsed in his more candid moments.

African Apocalypse works best when it is unafraid, tracing the topography of European violence through statues at Oxford and graves in Niger, and revealing a legacy of colonialism woven into the very fabric of our landscapes. An impeccable act of research and historic intervention, it is nevertheless a somewhat muted work of political protest – just when such protest is most needed.



CAST: Femi Nylander

DIRECTOR: Rob Lemkin

WRITERS: Rob Lemkin, Femi Nylander, Matt McConaghy

SYNOPSIS: Activist Femi Nylander travels to Niger to trace the history of Captain Paul Voulet, the real life counterpart of Heart of Darkness‘ Mr Kurtz.