Political Film Society - Newsletter #264 - December 15, 2006

December 15, 2006


Blood Diamond`Directed by Edwark Zwick, Blood Diamond is a dramatization of one of the world’s worst human rights tragedies of the twenty-first century--the use of forced labor by rebels to extract diamonds in Sierra Leone in exchange for weapons. Various facts are presented during and in the final frames of the film to provide context: (1) In the Belgian Congo, colonial administrators hacked off every hundredth hand of Africans who were forced to mine diamonds. (2) Whenever sources of wealth were uncovered in Africa, from ivory to gold to oil to diamonds, thousands of Africans died. (3) From 1994-1999, some $5 billion in diamonds were exported from Liberia, a country with no known diamond deposits, because they were smuggled in from Sierra Leone. (4) Forced labor accounts for 15 percent of all diamonds sold today; 75 percent of all diamonds are purchased in the United States. (5) In 2002, an international conference developed the Kimberly Process, which requires certification that diamond sales have not been used to finance armed rebels. (6) Today, there are 200,000 child soldiers in Africa. The story focuses on the infrastructure of the diamond trade, from the workers in a stream in Sierra Leone to the purchasers in London. Solomon Vandy (played by Djimon Hounsou) is taking his son Dia (played by Kagiso Kuypers) to school one day, when rebels barge into his village, kidnap all the men, force the male children to be soldiers, burn all houses, and force the men to pan for diamonds. After Vandy tries to hide a sizeable diamond, he escapes from the mining encampment and eventually runs into Danny Archer (played by Leonardo Di Caprio), a White Rhodesian who fought in Angola on behalf of South Africa who has become a diamond smuggler in Sierra Leone. When Archer hears that Vandy has found a big one, he is eager to locate the gem. Archer also meets Maddy Bowen (played by Jennifer Connelly), a journalist, whose articles question the morality of the diamond trade; she points out that she needs such facts as bank account numbers that can implicate those involved. Archer and Vandy then accompany Bowen and other journalists in a trip to the diamond country. Although Archer seeks the diamond, Vandy is looking for his son, and Bowen departs before the trip becomes too hazardous for those who are unarmed. The love story is bittersweet, particularly at the end of the film. Although the film comes too late to stop the grisly diamond trade in its tracks, the Political Film Society has nominated Blood Diamond as best film on human rights of 2006, especially because the filmmakers have turned down a request for a disclaimer from the World Diamond Council, the industry’s chamber of commerce. MH

Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of KazakhstanIn 1831, twenty-five year old aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville toured American and wrote up his memorable impressions, thereby ushering in a genre of on-the-road literature about the United States that has often been brought to the screen, most recently in Transamerica (2005). Borat: Cultural Learnings of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, directed by Larry Charles, is a film about Borat Sagdiyev (played by Sacha Baron Cohen), a fictional TV journalist who travels from his home in Kazakhstan to the United States so that his television viewers can learn more about American culture. The film is supposed to be a comedy, with slapstick vulgarity on a par with Saturday Night Live. Rather than learning about American culture, Borat imposes his own stereotypes onto what he sees, as naïve Americans often do abroad. However, Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry finds much of the movie to be objectionable, and some of the extras are suing for breach of contract. The filming is in Romania, where the village of Glod is upset over of its shabby portrayal, and a lawsuit has been filed to ban further distribution until those scenes are cut. Two Americans who pick up Borat as a hitchhiker have filed lawsuits, charge breach of contract for their filming under false pretences. Yet another problem is that Kazakhs are smoothskinned Asians in contrast with hairy Sacha Baron Cohen, who is a British Jew. The supposed Kazakh “Running of the Jew” festival and later belief that Jewish owners of an American bed-and-breakfast seek to poison him are in very poor taste if not anti-Semitic, though many Americans may not realize that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians (depicting Israel as the aggressor) receives unfavorable media attention outside the United States and might indeed make a Kazakh leery about all Jews. Indeed, “Throw the Jew down the well” is practiced in Kazakhstan, where the local press frequently comments on “International Jewry.” The sexist remarks in the film may have been derived from a practice in Kazakhstan in which men kidnap a single woman whom they want to marry and negotiate later with the parents for the price of the dowry. The main glue that holds the film together is Borat’s lust for Pamela Anderson (playing herself in an uncredited role) after seeing her body displayed on television, as he decides to leave New York to go to California to marry her. Filmviewers may find that laughter during the satire is contagious in a densely packed cinema, but the comedy may fall very flat indeed within the privacy of a home and a courtroom. MH