“It was the kind of thing you hear in movies…and to hear that in real life…,” remarks journalist Melanie Gouby, as she recounts the dinner conversation she secretly recorded while meeting with SOCO International employees, where bribery and warfare were casually discussed. The meeting took place in the Congo, just outside of Virunga National Park, where above the treetops the dwindling population of the world’s gorillas reside, and below the brush – allegedly – sits a plethora of oil. SOCO leads oil expeditions.
What’s ironic about the haunting soundbites Gouby was able to steal from the table is that, while they did sound like the type of comments you’d hear in a movie – a mob or war film, they were in fact in being filmed, only for a documentary. Netflix and (of course) Leonardo DiCaprio have teamed up to create Virunga, the story of a community who is willing to risk everything to save the park and the wildlife in it, both for the sake of the endangered species and to defend their own freedom. Historically, the atrocities inflicted by the decades-long civil war in Africa, both upon the civilians and the environment, remain largely overlooked, repressed, or even unknown. Until this film.
Fueled solely by money and the sheer willingness to survive, over a dozen rebel armies have made it impossible for a central – and safe – government to form. The psychology behind hurting your own people is almost impossible to crack, but it’s no mystery why the bloodshed has lasted so long: Africa is a goldmine, literally, for precious resources, from diamonds and titanium to ivory and, now, oil. Corrupt corporations worldwide – with billions to spend – put money in the pockets of the armies and guns in their hands. By doing so they are able to create a sense of fear and disorganization in an already historically unstable place, keeping the population vulnerable and compliant with being exploited.
In Virunga, the presence of the gorillas is the only thing keeping the park at its protected status. If the gorillas are gone, the oil companies can move in. So the first step? Get rid of the gorillas. When (some of) the park rangers fight back to protect the animals, the companies, namely SOCO turn to the rebel armies and corrupt rangers – forcing their way in but keeping their hands in clean, at least in their eyes.
The documentary is heavy, in violence and emotion, but it’s a story that needs to be told. It’s exposed the corruption of the oil industry, shown how imperialism still exists, exemplified how humanistic animals are and how they are emotionally impacted by humans, and provided a window into the suffering that the people of the Congo endure on a daily basis. Watch it now and visit the site to find out how you can do your part to help bring peace, or at least awareness, to an issue that has been swept under the rug for too long.