We all remember Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond.” Did the film change your perception of the extractives industry in Africa?
When we tweeted that staffers at ONE were arguing over this article on international poverty films from The Guardian, we weren’t kidding. It seemed like everyone at the office – both in our DC headquarters and London – had an opinion on the piece, which explores Hollywood’s influence on our perception of development and lists out 51 films with a development-themed plot device.
Before the conversation turned into a debate over how the movies on the list ranked — or whether they deserved to be included at all — we took a step back and asked a few random staffers this important question: Does Hollywood oversimplify extreme poverty or help get issues out to more people?
Here’s what they said:
BOTH: Maryamu Aminu, ONE deputy government affairs director
There are standard characters – African women and girls as poor rape victims waiting to be rescued, and African males as violent savages or loyal servants to their heroic masters. The Lemah Gboweh, Nelson Mandela characters do not exist (see video below). Most importantly, there aren’t stories about African situations told by Africans or completely driven by African characters. The only example I’ve seen is a detective series that featured R&B singer Jill Scott as a private detective in Botswana.
BOTH: Joe Kraus, ONE policy manager, transparency and accountability
Hollywood does both. Given the complexity of factors that create and sustain extreme poverty, presenting an accurate overview while also trying to weave in a storyline that will entice people to spend $12 on a movie ticket is challenging. Sometimes Hollywood movies, despite these shortcomings, can help raise awareness about a serious issue. The movie “Blood Diamond,” for instance, helped make the issue of diamonds and exploitation a topic of dinner table conversations, and catalyzed an international outcry and action. On the other end of the spectrum, a movie like Bruce Willis’s “Tears of the Sun” only served to perpetuate negative stereotypes of Africa as a violent, helpless continent that can only be saved from itself with the benevolent and chest-thumping help of US military might.
HELPS: Saira O’Mallie, ONE UK campaigner:
When a Hollywood blockbuster tackles a complex issue, even if it’s too simplistic or over dramatic, it could still bring new people to the fight who are keen to learn more. You could equally criticize development agencies for over-complicating issues. But hopefully most people will form their opinions based on a broad range of sources; good, bad, serious and fun. And we all get it wrong sometimes… even when we think we know what we’re talking about!
SIMPLIFIES: Michael Healy, ONE UK communications associate:
Hollywood simplifies, but I wouldn’t say “oversimplifies.” Unless the story is the situation, which would basically make the film a documentary, then I understand why they’d have to do that. They can’t fit every nuanced aspect of each development situation into a 90-minute film. As long as films don’t just outright start making stuff up and claim to be a reasonably true portrayal of real events (I’m looking at you “Last King of Scotland”) then I don’t think there is too much of a problem.
BOTH: Helen Hector, ONE UK digital content manager: I think anything that helps get global issues into people’s living rooms and conversations is great, and Hollywood films do this. Yes they usually simplify the complex reality, and sometimes they just entrench stereotypes of war, corruption and women with pots of their heads. But I’ve spoken to so many people whilst out campaigning who say “Oh, like in ‘The Constant Gardener’” when trying to understand the issue I’m telling them about, and you can see something click and it helps them make sense of it all. And now with so many people using mobiles whilst watching films, it’s easy for people to start exploring an issue in more depth in real time. If Leo has been the spark that made that happen, I’m fine with that.
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