I’m enthusiastically awaiting the arrival The Last King of Scotland in Lexington, but I must admit that Dana Stevens review of the film reminds me a little bit of Chinua Achebe’s appraisal of Hearts of Darkness:
Africa as metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?
In other words, there was more to the Belgian Congo than two Adventurous White Guys going crazy on a river. Indeed, the problems of Marlowe and Kurtz don’t seem to amount to a hill of beans compared to the grand opera of destruction that was the European colonial project in Africa. Stevens suggests that Last King uses Amin as a prop to examine the moral degeneration of Adventurous White Guy, played in this case by James McAvoy. I’m also reminded a little bit of Cry Freedom, which, for whatever merit it has, could have been titled “White Guy Comes to Grips with Apartheid while his Black Friends Die.”
Thinking on this question makes me revisit my mild disappointment in Hotel Rwanda, which, in retrospect, largely avoided the problems discussed above. Hotel Rwanda’s avoidance of the crazy white guy narrative has to be seen as particularly impressive in the context of what was an obvious “white guy gone crazy” opportunity in the figure of General Romeo Dallaire, played in the film by Nolte as “Colonel Oliver”. Dallaire was genuinely driven crazy by the events in Rwanda, but the film shows us very little of this, instead concentrating on the experiences of the African victims and perpetrators of the genocide. I think that my mild disappointment had a lot to do with how the film lacked operatic sweep, especially towards the end. Rusesabagina’s recovery of his children during the RPF advance feels like a tacked on Hollywood ending but is, in fact, the way that the story played out. There was no way, without doing violence to the narrative, to tell the story with a different ending.
Nevertheless, I found it unsatisfying, and I’m now wondering whether that has more to do with me than with the film. Am I prepared to accept a story about Africa when Africa is a Grand Backdrop for Something Important Happening, and less prepared to accept a story about Africa and Africans? Perhaps the inevitable consequence of being a white Westerner, but probably not…
Incidentally, why has no one ever made a movie out of Things Fall Apart or No Longer at Ease? I see that there was a production of the former in 1971, but it seems to have been rather minor and I’ve never seen it.