As the camp at Standing Rock was forcibly evacuated last week, I immediately thought of the film, The Battle of Algiers (1966). Seeing North Dakota police force indigenous water protectors off their land reminded me of the scenes of French soldiers harassing and pushing native Algerians out of their homes.
The Battle for Algiers is based on events that took place during the Algerian War for Independence (1954-62), especially the famous battle for the capital, Algiers, between 1954 and 1957.
In the film, Algerian revolutionaries resist their French colonizers by striking, demonstrating, and directly confronting French police, exercising a collective agency that endured even after many of the National Liberation Front (FLN) leaders were captured or killed. This parallels the water protectors’ actions in resisting colonial violence at Standing Rock, where encampments were created at the building site to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Like the Algerians, these resisters put their bodies on the line, in confronting security forces and chaining themselves to machinery. The dispossession the Algerians experienced during French colonialism is also mirrored by what the Standing Rock Sioux are enduring, as plans to build DAPL move forward.
The Battle of Algiers underscores how French colonial troops subjugated native Algerians. In the film, we see how they conduct violent raids, destroy homes in the casbah, the Algerian quarter of the city, and establish checkpoints to arrest anyone they find suspicious. State and federal law enforcement at Standing Rock have similarly behaved as an occupying force. Private security entities have trespassed on sovereign Sioux land, and sacred sites have been desecrated, all with the complicity of state and federal law enforcement. Treaties between the Sioux nation and the United States have been broken, and dozens have been arrested in the fight to stop the construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline.
This connection between the film and various contemporary resistance movements has also been made by Sohail Daulatzai, professor of media studies at UC Irvine, in his latest book, Fifty Years of the Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue. “Though the Battle of Algiers ended fifty years ago,” he says, “it’s as if it never ended … we are seemingly still living in the film.”
In his book, Daulatzai argues that The Battle of Algiers is “a nomadic text that has migrated throughout the world and has … been embraced by a diverse group of revolutionaries.” Groups like the Black Panthers, the Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers, and even L.A.-based Chicano activists in the 1990s have all drawn upon the film’s lessons. Daulatzai argues that The Battle of Algiers has been used by these groups to understand third world liberation movements; for the Black Panthers, it was even a training resource.
The Battle of Algiers is everywhere, and is still being fought. Though the standoff at Standing Rock reached a peak after Daulatzai’s book was published, it reflects the film’s status as “a prescient and telling testament to the present,” as the author so aptly describes.