District 9

I have been waiting with great anticipation to see Shane Acker and Tim Burton‘s 9 which comes out today! We’re going to try and see The Dandy Warhols at Emo’s so doubt we’ll get to see it today. But I’ll definitely see it by this weekend! (I absolutely LOVE Shane Acker’s short film, “9“.)

My husband, daughter and I did see District 9 on Saturday, however. My daughter has been begging to see this movie so my husband promised to take her.  I almost let them go without me, but luckily decided to go with them at the last minute.   don’t think I’ve ever seen anything by Neill Blomkamp. What an absolutely fantastic premise!  

An extremely large space ship breaks through our atmosphere and hovers over Johannesburg for years. It’s become stranded because it lost the control module. The aliens are malnourished and starving and nobody knows what to do with them so they create a refugee camp, which is nothing more than a slum.

Some of the details are incredibly far-fetched and totally unbelievable, but the main premise is fascinating. Had I not made my way through all the documentaries and information on the insanely inhumane treatment of humanity toward humanity and humanity toward animals, I might have thought the entire film was far fetched. Unfortunately, it’s not!

The film is based on actual events that occurred during the apartheid in Johannesburg in District Six in 1966.  An area in Cape Town was declared “White’s Only” and 60,000 people were forcibly removed and relocated to Cape Flats. The film also refers to post-apartheid removals in South Africa. The film was shot in Chiawelo, one of these removal areas.  

District 9 is shot as a mockumentary and I imagine this is a very affective way to get into the psyche of people who otherwise might not be paying attention.  It’s beautifully done and I’m very glad I went to see it!!

Munyurangabo (2007)

I’ve seen several movies about the Rwandan massacre over the years so was a little bit worried Munyurangabo would be another movie about the genocide. Instead it was a fantastic and very emotionally moving movie about the aftermath of the genocide.  Lee Issac Chung, an American and son of Korean refugees, shot the movie as a project for a class of at-risk Rwandan students, so much of the cast and crew are actual genocide orphans and refugees who engage in improvised dialogue. This is the first film to be done entirely in Kinyarwanda, which Chung doesn’t speak, so he had to rely upon a translator.  Even though it’s obviously not professionally acted, Munyurangabo has an incredibly realistic, authentic feel.

The movie is about two friends. Ngabo (Jeff Rutagengwa), a Tutsi whose father was slain in the genocide and Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye), a Hutu. Both have planned a journey to avenge the death of Ngabo’s father, but they stop through Sangwa’s village first. Sangwa becomes obsessed with pleasing his abusive father who demands Sangwa end his freindship with a Tutsi.

Family ties are important, but very often it’s those family ties that lead to horrible division among peoples and cultures.   The mother is simply happy to have her son return to her, but the father makes loyalty demands of him. If the son gives into these demands, he’ll likely carry on the racial hatred from the past generations. If he doesn’t, he risks losing the love and respect of his father.  It’s an incredibly difficult position to be in and the film handles it beautifully!

Crisis in Africa

I’ve watched several more films and documentaries about Africa. There are so many good ones out there.

Blood Diamonds, a recent movie about the Sierra Leone conflict that had 5 Academy Award nominations last year and stars Leonardo DiCaprio was quite well done and worked well with the documentary "Blood Diamonds from the History Channel" and "The Empire in Africa" (if you can stomach it).

A very upbeat film having to do with the Sierra Leone conflict was "Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars" (which is another wonderful POV film.)  There is actually a whole Channel of videos for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars on Youtube. Check it out here.

Darfur Diaries, Messages from Home is available on the “watch now” feature on Netflix. The violence came through loud and clear, but it didn’t contain “in your face” violence. The story is told through the voice (and drawings) of the people. It’s very upsetting but remains hopeful. This is a situation where it is clear the Sudanese government has pitted the Arabs and Africans against one another.

Another film on the “watch now” feature on Netflix, is Rwanda: Living Forgiveness (just 27 minutes). It’s kind of blah and reminiscent of the awful things we used to have to watch in school in the 60′s and 70′s. The voiceovers are terrible. But I kind of liked it. People get confused about what forgiveness is – they think it is the same as forgetting. But it’s not. It’s about differentiating the behavior from the individual. Rather than blame the individual, put the blame where it belongs – on the specific behavior. If we don’t do that, then we tend to further inflame ugly behavior rather than put out its flames. Forgiveness puts out the flames – both within us and within the other person. It may be easier to hate, but hatred takes so much more out of us than does forgiveness. Forgiveness is life-giving. Hatred is violent and life-denying. If you hate because violence was inflicted upon you, then your hatred serves to perpetuate the violence that was inflicted upon you no matter how understandable that hatred is. However much Christianity has been abused and abuses, when it is used for the sake of reconciliation, it is very difficult to fault. Not a great film. But interesting and also hopeful.

I also recently re-watched Hotel Rwanda with my daughter which is quite good (and an appropriate film to show to junior high aged kids.) It’s the true story of Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle), a hotel manager, who saved over 1200 Tutsi when the Hutu military went on it’s killing spree in 1994. Sometimes in April is also a very good film about the 1994 Rwanda situation, but it’s much more violent.

Not on Our Watch

I have been referring to Not on Our Watch by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast for the past several weeks. I have finally finished the book and am quite glad to have read it. I must admit after watching all of these films on the complicated matters going on in Africa, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But Not on Our Watch lays out very easy guidelines to start getting involved. We don’t all have to be peace activists to do something.

Even if we just write a letter to the president or our congressman, that helps. This is extremely easy to do. There are links providing pre-written letters ready to be edited, filled in and e-mailed to the President and to Congress at Enough!. SaveDarfur.org has a link that makes it very easy to write the editors of our local newspapers here. BeAWitness.org has a link here that makes it easy to tell TV networks to devote more airtime to genocide. (During June 2005, CNN, FOXNews, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur.)

Other things we can do are raise awareness which of course means we must be aware ourselves. There is so much information out there. Here are a few Cheadle and Prendergast recommend for getting informed:

Also, watch The Devil Came on Horseback, a fantastic introduction to the issues that are going on in Darfur and the need to make people aware of what is happening.

They also recommend playing Darfur is Dying. I sent this link to both of my kids. I don’t know if my son has even seen it yet, but my daughter has forwarded it to some of her friends and has also posted the link to the game on her dream at Furcadia. Several people have played it and responded that they want to do something. It’s definitely an effective game. My daughter and I are going to take some time to learn more together and to figure out a way she can organize the people who want to help. Raising awareness is not difficult in this day and age! And it seems kids tend to be natural activists. They haven’t yet grown indifferent. (Although my daughter is actually online as I right this arguing with someone who says they can’t do anything about Darfur.)

We can sign a petition to show we care. We can raise funds. We can call for divestment. We can make people aware that China is a big part of the problem in Darfur. China is hosting the Olympic games this year and we can urge China to help bring the crisis to an end. (It made news on Wednesday that Stephen Spielberg has quit as artistic adviser for the Olympic games because of China’s close ties to the killing and displacement of people in Darfur – which is now spilling into Chad.) Almost any of the links I’ve posted here refer to hundreds more. It’s easy to get involved.

There are four obstacles that Prendergast and Cheadle call the Four Horsemen Enabling the Apocalypse: apathy, indifference, ignorance, and inertia. We can’t let apathy, indifference, ignorance and inertia win because there are millions of lives at stake and will likely be millions more in the future.

Besides reading this book, I have been watching several films on the issues going on in Africa. The only thing in the book I potentially disagree with, but I’m not 100% sure yet, is that John Prendergast says we need to get over our resistance to using military force in these situations.

I’ve been wondering a lot about the use of force. Robert Thurman says the Dalai Lama provides an alternative solution. Tibet has been through similar atrocities and the Dalai Lama must live in exile. Yet he maintains that forgiveness is the way and remains peaceful. The decision to be peaceful and not to maintain a military army was made centuries ago in Tibet. He is not without critics, however.

It does seem somewhat illogical to think we can end violence with violence. Can that really work? As Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it in the first place. And as Prendergast cautions, this violence must be used with prudence because force very often makes things worse. So how can you know if you are being prudent if you are on the outside looking in? There is no way to know which violence is going to make things better and which isn’t. Chances are, if it makes things temporarily better, it will come back with a vengeance later.

But no matter. I think Sartre is right. Doing nothing is still doing something. It has an affect. We all must act from where it is we are at and do what it is we can.

Blood Diamonds – Ripple Effect

I guess I’m sort of skipping around. Last post was on Darfur, now I’m back to Sierra Leone and the diamond mine problem. I watched the History Channel documentary entitled "Blood Diamonds” which won an Emmy for “Outstanding Non-fiction Special”.

Did you ever stop to think about what makes diamonds so valuable? They actually exist in the world in abundance. Diamonds aren’t rare. So what makes them so precious to us? Why is it that “a diamond is forever”?

The value is thanks to good marketing. Diamond’s are considered extremely valuable in the U.S. thanks to this “diamond is forever” marketing. Since the 1950′s, a diamond engagement ring has been “the thing to do”. But it is very likely that the diamond you are wearing helps aid in the cycle of violence and bloodshed.

My husband and I haven’t been to church much recently. The last time we went, the minister gave a sermon on Paul Simon’s song, “Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes”. I took notes on the bulletin so pulled it out. His sermon was entitled: “Few are Guilty, All Are Responsible”.

The song is about diamond mining in South Africa…

(a-wa) O kodwa u zo-nge li-sa namhlange

(a-wa a-wa) Si-bona kwenze ka kanjani

(a-wa a-wa) Amanto mbazane ayeza

She’s a rich girl

She don’t try to hide it

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

He’s a poor boy

Empty as a pocket

Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose

Sing Ta na na

Ta na na na

She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes

She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

People say she’s crazy

She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes

Well that’s one way to lose these

Walking blues

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

She was physically forgotten

Then she slipped into my pocket

With my car keys

She said you’ve taken me for granted

Because I please you

Wearing these diamonds

And I could say Oo oo oo

As if everybody knows

What I’m talking about

As if everybody would know

Exactly what I was talking about

Talking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes

She makes the sign of a teaspoon

He makes the sign of a wave

The poor boy changes clothes

And puts on after-shave

To compensate for his ordinary shoes

And she said honey take me dancing

But they ended up by sleeping

In a doorway

By the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway

Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes

And I could say Oo oo oo

As if everybody here would know

What I was talking about

I mean everybody here would know exactly

What I was talking about

Talking about diamonds

People say I’m crazy

I got diamonds on the soles of my shoes

Well that’s one way to lose

These walking blues

Diamonds on the soles of your shoes

The minister said that when he was an SMU seminarian, he and several seminarians were upset with some of the investments that SMU was making that benefited corruption. They decided that they were going to change the face of SMU. But a seminarian who was a native of South Africa said that while he felt it was important to recognize the importance of divestment, he had trouble with American liberal self-righteousness that seemed to think there were easy answers. Had the Native Americans been able to resist European diseases in the same way the Africans had been able to resist the diseases, Americans would be dealing with the same thing the South Africans are dealing with today. It’s complicated. There is no easy solution.

Everything that happens in one place is connected to everything that happens everywhere else. We are all connected and that connection is not based solely upon the positive occurrences new agers emphasize but likewise upon the negative occurrences no one wants to look at. What I am doing and what I am buying has a ripple effect elsewhere. Even “not buying” has a ripple effect.

In the song, both the man and the woman are empty inside: the rich woman and the poor man. The men and women who work in the mines literally walk with diamonds on the souls of their shoes, but this does not make them rich in the materialistic sense because their labor and the dust that results from the labor is forced. Those who are wealthy and are blind to the forces that drive their need for wealth likewise have diamonds on the souls of their shoes. But they are spiritually impoverished.

Sid says the song is about the play between the west and the more impoverished nations. It’s a reminder that we are all connected to each other. Notice in the lyrics how everyone ends up with diamonds on the souls of their shoes…

  • Diamonds on the souls of her shoes…
  • Diamonds on the souls of their shoes…
  • Diamonds on the souls of my shoes…
  • Diamonds on the souls or your shoes…

It’s all interconnected. It’s not about an idealization of poverty because the idealization of poverty is reliant upon an idealization of the wealthy. And it’s not about an idealization of wealth because wealth is reliant upon the slave labor of the impoverished.

The Devil Came on Horseback

The Devil Came on Horseback was excellent. So excellent, in fact, that I made my husband watch it. It is a documentary film about the crisis in Darfur based on the book by former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle. The book bares the same title and is a reference to the Janjaweed who were hired by the Sudanese government to take care of the rebel uprisings. The Janjaweed are known by the local people as “the devil on horseback” because of the atrocities they commit which Steidle witnessed and photographed.

Steidle accepted a position as a military observer in the Darfur region of the Sudan. He took photographs of what was going on and came back to the U.S. to speak out about what he saw. But no one listened.

It’s absolutely heart-wrenching!! Read his article: "In Darfur, My Camera Was Not Nearly Enough::

     The attention paid to Darfur in Congress and at the United Nations hasn’t been enough. For the first time, we might be able to stop genocide in the making. We must not fail the men, women and children of Darfur.

     During my time in Darfur, as I listened to the victims, I was astounded at their composure. Their unwavering faith provides some rationale to what seems to me an inexplicable horror. By handing over their lives to God, somehow each day is a gift, despite the massacres. “We’re going to die,” they acknowledge with fear, “but we hope to survive . . . Inshallah [God willing].” Unfortunately, they just don’t have a choice.

     We do.

The Empire in Africa – Sierra Leone

The Empire in Africa was available on the “watch now” feature on Netflix. I could barely watch parts of it and I’m not overly squeamish. I’ve never seen anything more brutal in my entire life and am not exactly sure I needed to see it. To portray that sort of violence seems somehow wrong to me – like you are doing further degradation to the person who had to suffer it by watching it. The “in your face” violence seemed a tad on the voyeuristic side although perhaps we need to know how brutal man can be to man? I didn’t feel right watching it – not just because it was difficult to watch, but because it somehow felt like I was performing an indignity by doing so.

The documentary is about the troubles in Sierra Leone, a tiny country bordered by Guinea on the north and Liberia on the south. It’s a very small country but could easily be self-sustained because it used to be a major importer of rice and there are diamond minds. It was ranked the poorest country in the world in 1998. The civil war was about control of the diamond mines. The Rebels had intended to take it back for the people, but even when they had control, the people were still extremely poor. Today, foreign interests have control of the diamond mines and the country is still very impoverished.

Freetown was founded in 1787 for former Africans who had been American slaves and who had fought in the American Revolutionary war for Britain. It became a British colony and the interior of Sierra Leone become a British Protectorate. Both the Colony and the Protectorate gained their independence in 1961 and there was much instability from 1991-2002 which was blamed on the rebels. The film pointed out that the agencies hired by the government may have been to blame for much of the horrors that were committed in the country and that the rebel forces were used as scapegoats. This seems to be a theme in many of the conflicts in Africa.

The film’s main point is that even though the colony has won it’s independence, it continues to be controlled by foreign interests with the colonial power maintaining rights to the country’s most valuable resources. Some people have said the documentary is rebel propoganda, and perhaps it is. But then it isn’t unusual for rebels to be scapegoated for the interest of the powers that be.

The politics behind these conflicts is so complicated. Perhaps it is extremely easy to be misled when you don’t have all the facts, which I don’t. All I know is that there should never be any reason for innocent people, especially children, to suffer what these people have had to suffer. It is beyond my understanding of how people can feel so self-righteous about their stance that they could not only allow this sort of suffering to occur, but commit it. The rebels (Revolutionary United Front) systematically physically mutilated civilians they believed sided with the government – chopping off hands, legs, etc. It is estimated that 20,000 civilians suffered these sorts of amputations. They didn’t discriminate – they amputated the hands of children, too. They likewise recruited children for the rebel cause. The intellectual members of the RUF disagreed with these tactics, but within the first year of rebellion, they were killed.

There was also quite a bit of footage of government soldiers brutalizing civilians. The most disturbing was the atrocities they were committing on a young boy (maybe 8 or 9 years old, possibly younger) who had likely been recruited by the rebels. He was crying in fear and there was no mercy whatsoever. Very, very difficult to watch. That scene has haunted me more than any other. Clearly it wasn’t just the rebels who inflicted horrors on civilians. (Can you legitimately call an 8 year old boy a rebel?) Soldiers hired by the government were extremely brutal.

The British took control of the government in May 2000 as a result of “mission creep”. Within a year, the UN was in full control of the country and gradually handed control over to a retrained Sierra Leone army. In January, 2002, President Kabbah declared the civil war to be officially over.

The revenues from the diamond industry have increased, but more than 50% of diamond mining still remains unlicensed and considerable diamond smuggling continues. (I’ve added two more films to my Netflix queue – Blood Diamond (a movie) and Blood Diamonds (a documentary) to hopefully learn more about this.)

Tourism is becoming a major industry in Sierra Leone. After having watched Life and Debt about the tourism industry in Jamaica, you have to wonder if that is a good thing? Tourism is very often just another way for the powers that be to enjoy the resources of a country at the expense of the native residents.