Who Was King Leopold? The 'Legend Of Tarzan' Figure Has A Horrific History

The new movie The Legend of Tarzan may be a work of fiction, but it draws upon some real-life historical events to create the setting for the narrative. The film, in theaters July 1, takes place in the Congo Free State, and features depictions of historical figures such as George Washington Williams and Captain Léon Rom. The Legend of Tarzan also makes mention of someone named King Leopold, although he never makes an appearance in the film. But just who was King Leopold, and why is he such an important figure in the movie?

As you may have guessed, King Leopold was a real-life king, also known as Leopold II. He was the monarch of Belgium in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it was he who founded the Congo Free State. But in reality, the Congo was anything but free during Leopold's reign, as he committed horrific atrocities against the inhabitants and exploited the land's natural resources for his personal gain. With this background knowledge, it makes sense that Leopold is referenced as an antagonistic figure in The Legend of Tarzan . Here are some other things you should know about King Leopold to have a full understanding of his actions and their consequences in real life.

He Lay Claim To The Congo Under False Pretenses

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Leopold originally portrayed his interest in the area as being motivated by a humanitarian desire to improve the lives of the Congolese. To this end, he even established an organization called the International African Association, the mission of which was purportedly to end the slave trade in East Africa and bring "civilization" to its peoples. However, this was a front; Leopold's real motivation was to acquire overseas colonies for Belgium in order to increase his own power and wealth.

He Amassed A Fortune By Exploiting The Land's Resources

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There was a notable increase in demand for rubber around this time, and Leopold capitalized on it by launching massive rubber harvesting efforts in the Congo. The inhabitants were engaged in forced labor and were expected to produce huge quantities of rubber to be collected by the king's armed forces.

He Committed Unspeakable Human Rights Violations

Workers who did not meet the rubber quotas were beaten, mutilated, and even killed. In addition to those who were murdered, countless other inhabitants died as a result of diseases that Europeans brought to Africa. It is estimated that up to 10 million people — half of the population — died under Leopold's reign.

His Transgressions Were Finally Revealed

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Leopold took care to prevent the truth of his actions from being discovered by other world forces, but the reports of abuse spread and motivated further investigation into the King's regime in the Congo. Finally, in 1908 the Congo Free State was released from Leopold's rule, and the area became a colony under the Belgian government.

Leopold's conquest of the Congo is a truly horrifying and deplorable part of history, but one that must be remembered. Although The Legend of Tarzan is not a historical film, its setting in the Congo Free State will certainly make viewers think about how the events of this historical period are still relevant today.

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