Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Hollywood Magic Waters Down Africans’ Plight

After years of relative calm, the crisis in Darfur has brought Africa into the public spotlight once again. Yes, food shortages are a significant matter, millions dying of AIDS a depressing truism, civil wars an inevitability.

Recently, however, Africa has once again fascinated the western mind with its exotic locales and mysterious people.

Films such as “The Interpreter,”In My Country,”The Constant Gardener” and “Black Hawk Down” present Africa in a light more appropriate to the social and economic struggles it endures than the typical sweeping love story, a la “The English Patient” or “Out of Africa.” While these films are valuable in their own right, the current trend away from the simpler issues of Africa shows a thoughtful concern on the part of the American and European moviegoer.

Yet there remains one final step that all are reluctant to take.

We are only willing to observe the destruction in our own terms. White actors, whether Nicole Kidman in “Interpreter,” Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes in “Gardener,” or Juliette Binoche in “Country,” indeed address the issues of Africa. And let’s not forget “Hotel Rwanda,” in which Don Cheadle expertly illuminates the struggles of the Rwandan people.

In “Dirty Pretty Things,” we finally see something different. Chiewetel Ejifor, as an African immigrant in London, brings up many of the same poignant issues found in the other films mentioned. But this film finally steps further than any before it. Not only is the criticism of the African situation presented by a black man, but also an African – which Don Cheadle is not. Unfortunately, this is one film out of many. One film that doesn’t exclusively focus on the issues of Africa, but rather the realities of the immigrant situation in first world countries.

One could argue that African countries have not generated enough entertainers to accurately portray the continent to Americans and Europeans. In fact, this was the very argument put forth by Live 8 supporters criticized for the lack of African musicians in the lineup. The event wasn’t completely dominated by Western stars, of course, but nonetheless not many African musicians appeared – and those who did appear didn’t attract audiences (the crux of the issue). Of course, saying there are many African actors to choose from is an overstatement, but there are some worthy of note. Dijmoun Hounsou has been making waves in Hollywood in bit parts of both blockbusters and Indie flicks. But he has never played a lead role. Rumor has it that he will play the lead in a sequel to “Gladiator.” A giant step for an African man, to be sure, but how significant for the whole continent of Africa?

The problem lies in viewers’ lack of willingness to see Africans in lead roles in film, in music, in anything. Where does such a preference for white actors stem from? Is the American movie-going audience racist? Are they racked by guilt, feeling the stress of the white man’s burden? Instead of composing controversial poems, the West has taken to alleviating its guilt in a far more politically correct manner. If films about Africa are made and people are enlightened by them, then these films are essentially good.

While not objectionable because of their subject matter, these films are certainly not the great liberal phenomenon they are touted to be. They are perhaps the beginning of a movement toward accurate and honest portrayals of problems foreign to us. Perhaps presenting Africa through the prism of American or white experience makes it easier to understand for the Western mind. So, the films are an introduction to African reality, guiding the West into the continent’s violent upheavals slowly and cautiously. These movies can certainly be hailed as such a guide, but there is a long way to go.

So long as Africa remains deficient in its movie-making industry – as opposed to, say, the countless Bollywood productions – it cannot be presented in the truest terms. Yet we have reason to hope. Maybe an epic about Darfur, conveniently produced 10 years after the disaster, will be carried on the shoulders of an African man – or woman.

Julia Keblinska is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.

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