I found Aulelia’s comments on my previous post, “A Tale of Two Black Brothers” to be insightful, particularly her views on the film, The Last King of Scotland. Her statement: “Perhaps celluloid exposure is needed for more people to care about Africa?”, really got me thinking…. going deep into reflecting and meditating on the mass media portrayals of Africa.
First let me say that I did enjoy the film and I agree that Forest Whitaker’s performance was superb. I have no problem with him winning the Oscar. Who we believe should win is subjective, and it’s the majority of subjective opinions that determine who wins. I am also not so naïve that I don’t realize that Hollywood, and the movie-making industry at large, is a business…. and a business is all about making money. As such, they are concerned about what stories the public will pay money to see. Whether they are only catering to this demand or creating the demand is a worthy discussion to reflect and debate on in another post. However, Aulelia’s question got me asking: what are the celluloid exposures that we are getting of Africa? And do they lead “us” to care more about the continent?
I made a mental list of all the movies about Africa I have seen recently. Let’s see: Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Tsotsi, The Lord of War, The Constant Gardener, Hotel Rwanda, Tears of the Sun, Black Hawk Down, In My Country… these are the ones that comes to mind. Now I found them all to a varying degree, for different reasons, very good or at least interesting. But as I reflect, none of these storylines showed a positive image of Africa the continent, or African people. Savagery, brutality, murderous behaviour, ignorance, poverty, dishonesty, corruption, chaos and disease ran amok. In most of these films, the central hero, or the most dynamic anti-hero was a “white” male. Now there may be films that do show Africa in a positive light. I just haven’t seen or heard of them. So please enlighten me if anyone can recommend some.
I started wondering if these movies of Africa have replaced the blaxploitation “gangsta” films that were churned out by Hollywood in the late 80’s to early 2000. Do you remember Colors, Juice, New Jack City, Boyz N da Hood, Menace II Society, Above the Rim, Dead Presidents, Set it Off, Baby Boy, as well as the award winning Training Day and Hustle & Flow. As I also reflected on the themes of these movies, a pattern emerged in how Black people, particularly Black men were being portrayed: Savagery, brutality, murderous behaviour, ignorance, poverty, dishonesty, corruption, chaos and disease ran amok. Even Spike Lee’s acclaimed “Do the Right Thing”, dealt with Black rage which culminated in righteous Black violence.
Now since these movies are not being made in the same quantity as before, I can only surmise that they are no longer the moneymakers they used to be. So it begs the following questions: did this celluloid exposure of Black America cause more people to care for them? Or did it become passé, familiar and therefore boring? Is Black on Black murder in America no longer a thrill? But big business always finds new resources to meet the demands of their markets. So to Africa! The Dark Continent! Virgin territory once again to exploit familiar evils for an unfamiliar audience. Celluloid exposure to fill the theatre seats, sell popcorn and Coca-Cola, and get the cash registers ringing.
Then I got to thinking…. you know what? Maybe I am being too pessimistic! Maybe these celluloid images of Africa are providing the impetus for the promised influx of money and medicine to fight AIDS and other diseases in the continent. Maybe these celluloid images of Africa are getting people in the Western world to tackle the issue of child soldiers and child poverty. Maybe these celluloid images of Africa will prevent another genocide such as what occurred in Rwanda. Maybe these celluloid images of Africa in some way led to the Western nations caring more about the continent and was instrumental in the decision to forgive their burdening debt.
Then I remember that most Africans cannot afford the drugs to combat AIDS, even if they could get them. Then I remember the U.N. reports that malaria and lack of clean drinking water is killing most Africans. Then I remember that children in the Congo have to work in mines from “can’t see sun up to can’t see sundown” to make a barely subsistent living. Then I remember the child soldiers of the Lord Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. Then I remember Darfur. Then I remember the issue of vulture funds, where companies buy up the debt of these poor African nations cheaply from the Western nations when it is about to be written off, then SUE for the full value of the debt plus interest. (See post “Into the Heart of Darkness”.) AND I look around and have to conclude that Western society, like most of the rest of the world, just does not care. Is it because of the celluloid exposures? Or in spite of them?
Finally I reflect and wonder if there is a direct relationship…. a linear linkage from the images we saw of Africa in the past and today in movies, in the news, in mass media…. to the images we see today of Black America in movies, in the news and on televison (Cops, BET)…. to the recent execution of a 92 year old Grandmother during a police raid in Atlanta, for being a suspected drug dealer.
Heaven help us.