Alissa Wilkinson in Vox:
“A certain view of history contends that the historical narrative is just one fiction among others,” Raoul Peck’s deep, gravelly voice asserts near the beginning of Exterminate All the Brutes. But this view is wrong, he says. Some narratives are rooted in fact; others were made up to satisfy the powerful. “There is,” Peck declares, “no such thing as alternative facts.”
The four-part documentary series, now streaming on HBO Max, is not just Peck’s attempt to set the record straight, to pry apart fact and fiction. It’s a multilayered, serpentine, superlative recasting of history, in which Peck argues that many things we are taught as truth are actually the winners’ preferred version of the facts. His aim, he says, is to “deconstruct the official narrative.” That project, of course, has been ongoing for a long while, and several influences are discussed in the series, including Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States), Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (An Indigenous People’s History of the United States), and Sven Lindqvist (whose book by the same title inspired this series).
But doing the work in a visual and aural medium makes it all the more arresting. Each episode of Exterminate All the Brutes illustrates, in damning detail, the long arm of the construct of “whiteness” and white supremacy, a force much bigger than one country or one historical period. Then, it seeks to break that arm’s vice grip on our future.