"Kill Them!" - Abounaddara | Review
“Kill Them!,” a short film by the anonymous Syrian filmmaking collective Abounaddara, begins with an abstract montage of black silhouettes of combat soldiers moving against a bright red background, set to a fast-paced rhythmic drum beat. The footage of the soldiers– soldiers who are recognizable as likely American troops– alternates between close-up abstract shots of their black silhouettes, and grainy red-and-black footage of groups of these soldiers in action. Their activities are hard to parse, but they seem to be on the frontline, ready for combat, assault rifles clearly in hand. Suddenly, within the first five seconds of the
piece, the screen for this abstract footage becomes changing red letters against a black background. Serving as captions for the voice of a woman that rises above the continuing rhythmic beat, the letters read what her voice demands: “ARE WE MORONS?” After a second of more abstract red-and-black footage, the letters return as the screen, showing the woman, now visibly a television anchorwoman with a stern and determined expression, speaking behind the letters that frame her face while reading what she speaks: “WE NEED TO KILL THEM.”
The beat drops and a rock guitar riff joins the drums, turning the woman’s spoken words into song as the words flash across the screen. The words “WE NEED TO KILL THEM” are seen and heard three more times, followed by “BOMB THEM BOMB THEM AND BOMB THE AGAIN,” establishing this sequence as the chorus of the song. The footage seen through the letters alternates mostly between the woman speaking the words and the red-and-black abstracted footage of combat soldiers. The four verses in between the chorus of “WE NEED TO KILL THEM” and ““BOMB THEM BOMB THEM AND BOMB THE AGAIN” consists of several rhythmically edited phrases spoken by the woman, including “VIOLENT JIHADISTS,” “US THEM THEM US,” “ARM THOSE MUSLIMS TO THE TEETH,” “THEY’RE EITHER WITH US OR AGAINST US,” “THEY DON’T OPERATE THE WAY WE DO,” “THEY CALL US ISLAMOPHOBES,” “100S OF 1000S OF INNOCENTS KILLED IN THE MIDDLE EAST,” “ALLAH AKBAR,” “I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU FOR YEARS THAT THEY’RE COMING FOR US, THAT THERE IS A REVERSE CRUSADE IN PROGRESS,” “CHRISTIAN GENOCIDE,” and “TERRORISM WILL BE THE DEATH OF US.” Through the course of the piece, the red-and-black montage of the footage seen through the shifting letters ceases to depict the combat soldiers, and begins instead to mostly depict Middle Eastern men with beards and with covered faces– and sometimes footage of flying objects, likely fighter jets or drones– all still in grainy red and black that lends it an abstract feel. There is a moment in the last chorus where the words become solid, grainy, and low-res, and they flash with an alternating solid bright red and white background. The woman’s face uttering the words, sometimes with a grainy red or purple filter and always with the letters of her words acting as the screen, alternates with the abstract footage for the duration of the two-minute video.
The anchorwoman at the center of “Kill Them!” is television personality Jeanine Pirro, the current host of Fox News’s weekly news commentary program Justice with Judge Jeanine. Her comments in the video are parts of her commentary delivered on her program following the January 2015 attacks in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo offices by Jihadist extremists. Abounaddara uploaded their “remix” of Pirro’s comments that same week, presenting Pirro’s monologue in a style reminiscent of a certain strain of viral videos on the Internet, specifically on social media, that turn spoken words into a song through editing. Most of these viral videos employ autotune on the voices, and although Abounaddara does not employ autotune on Pirro’s voice, their editing of Pirro’s comments hinged on repetition, paired with the beat and guitar and, above all, the compelling visuals that lend it an abstract yet undeniably harsh quality, all serve to underscore and make visible and audible the violence of Pirro’s words.
“Kill Them!” is in several ways a stylistic and thematic deviation from the usual work of Abounaddara. A large amount of the group’s work, which is all produced by its anonymous Syrian members and has been posted online weekly since 2011 at the start of the Syrian Civil War, was on view at The New School’s recent exhibition, Abounaddara: The Right to the Image. “Kill Them!” was on view during the first week of the exhibition, with the theme of appropriation. Throughout all three weeks of the exhibition, most of the videos on view, although diverse in style and content, centered around depicting the nuances of Syrian life and culture. “Kill Them!” does not depict Syrian life or culture, and it most definitely does not aim for nuance, but instead seemingly the opposite– it depicts an American media personality engaged in all-too familar fearmongering and reductive rhetoric with regards to Jihadist terrorists. In this way, however, “Kill Them!” serves to underscore the point of Abounaddara’s vast number of works; it exposes the much more broadly watched and widely recognized rhetoric and media representations that make necessary the nuanced, personal work of Abounaddara.
Charif Kiwan, the spokesperson for Abounaddara, said of the beginnings of the filmmaking collective: “The culture industry failed to represent our society accurately and with dignity… we see ourselves as filmmakers empowering our civil society to give it the possibility to produce its own image independent of any political or media agenda,” (Bayoumi). Using the internet as a platform, the collective has been posting their work consistently for over four years with the intent of allowing Syrians to have a voice and a medium in the representation of their own lives in the chaos that they are living through. Although Abounaddara’s films are not targeted to Westerners specifically, it goes without saying that the West itself leads the tone of the global media representation of the Syrian people. As American foreign policy expert Ted Galen Carpenter explains, “Too many accounts portray the conflict as a Manichean struggle between the evil, brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad and noble freedom fighters seeking to create a new, democratic Syria. The reality is far more complex and murky,” (Carpenter 1). Depicting this complexity and nuance in the Middle East is what Abounaddara works toward through the depiction of a nuanced and human-centered point of view that goes beyond demanding, “WE NEED TO KILL THEM.”
Abbounadara. A Right to the Image for All: A Concept Paper for a Coming Revolution. 2015. Print.
Bayoumi, Moustafa."The Civil War in Syria Is Invisible-But This Anonymous Film Collective Is Changing That." The Nation. 29 June 2015. Web.
Carpenter, T. G. "Tangled Web: The Syrian Civil War and Its Implications." Mediterranean Quarterly 24.1 (2013): 1-11. Web.
Kill Them! Prod. Abounaddara. Vimeo, 16 Jan. 2015. Web.
Pirro, Jeanine. "'We Need to Kill Them': Judge Jeanine Says It's Time to Stop Islamic Terror." Fox News Insider. Fox News, 11 Jan. 2015. Web.