The Devil Came on a Variety of Modes of Transport but was not Wearing Prada

NAIROBI: There have been a couple of cracking films set in Africa this year. Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland captured the essence of Sierra Leone and Idi Amin’s Uganda respectively. Even Blood Diamond with its Hollywood trappings managed to convey the complexities and moral ambiguities of the illegal trade in gems. The Last King of Scotland just sort of felt right. After decades where filmmaking in Africa began and ended with Out of Africa, it seemed like the movie world had grown up a bit even – if it did like to keep a white man as the central character.

So I’m looking forward to seeing The Devil Came on Horseback. This isn’t a work of fiction. It’s a documentary based on the work of Captain Brian Steidle, an American marine, who worked as an unarmed military observer with the African Union in Darfur.

In an interview in the NY Times, he does at least have the decency to admit to being a trifle embarrassed at being the white man at the centre of a film about Sudan. “The hardest part for me during the filming,” said Mr. Steidle, 30, “was when we were shooting in Rwanda, during a commemoration of the genocide there. There were huge ceremonies, people crying, people lighting candles. And here’s this one camera, in the dark, with a bright, white spotlight, and it’s pointed at me, one of only about 10 white people who were there. I’m very sensitive to it. But they convinced me that the best way to tell the story is through me.”

But it still seems as if the film has fallen into the old trap of oversimplification. JMac has been pretty scathing on her blog: Again, we hear the very basic chants that mainstream media has offered: “genocide, janjaweed, UN intervention.”

I guess the title does suggest that we are going to hear the same old thing. The Devil Came on Horseback? I guess a film entitled, The Devil Came on a Variety of Modes of Transport, Sometimes They Were People We Call Arabs Even Though They Aren’t Really Arabs, Other Times They Were People Who Don’t Even Call Themselves Arabs, They Were Our Friends Until Khartoum Started Giving Them Money, But They Were Not Wearing Prada, was always going to struggle.

One thought on “The Devil Came on a Variety of Modes of Transport but was not Wearing Prada

  1. I know, I know…..I was harsh with Brian and his film. I admit my expectations were much higher than they should have been. And, I’m sure Brian is a super guy with the best of intentions. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for him, not being able to intervene other than documenting the gruesome details with photos. I applaud him for taking action when he returned home.

    This is what I’m struggling with: is oversimplification of the conflict in Darfur by Western countries in fact necessary, in order to rally and motivate more people to act? (Act, taking on various meanings here, but my preferred “action” is support of humanitarian relief/sustainable development…however, I suppose we need peace before we can effectively support these things) Still, the simplicity seems disrespectful. But perhaps that’s what it takes?

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