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Sunday, 20 December 2009


A new disturbing trend is slowly settling in of American movie producers raiding the African continent for story-lines and then casting Hollywood stars for the lead roles.

The latest is an upcoming biography of Winnie Madikizela Mandela, expected to be played by Jennifer Hudson. This follows Forest Whitaker's role as Idi Amin in the movie, 'The Last King of Scotland. '

There have been talks of another American screen heavyweight, Samuel. L. Jackson assuming the character of Kenyan maritime negotiator Andrew Mwangura, in a planned film on the piracy menace off the coast of Somalia.

The acting talents and critical acclaim of these Hollywood superstars is not in dispute. Although the darkening of Whitaker's skin to approximate the hue of the Ugandan dictator spoke volumes about the inappropriateness of this choice.

What is worrying is the apparent conspiracy by American or other foreign film moguls to identify African stories, spend a considerable amount shooting, which will be recovered many times over in due course, and then almost all the commercial benefits are repatriated to Hollywood.

South African actors' union protest

The Creative Workers Union of South Africa has threatened to mobilize opposition to the Winnie Mandela movie project, if the title role is not handed to an indigenous person.

Their argument is that for such a portrayal of an important figure in their country's history, the main role should not be given to an outsider, however good her acting credentials are.

The underlying feeling is that casting Hudson in the movie amounts to an indictment of perceived shortcomings of South African movie standards and an eventual hindrance to the development of its film industry.

Distorting the African story

Even though movies can at best only be fictional depictions of real-life events or personalities, they still act as a significant repository of history.

If the casting, plot, or setting is portrayed differently, even slightly, there is a risk that the perception of the actual events by future generations, might be contaminated based on the way a past movie had portrayed them.

That is perhaps one reason why some film critics were not exactly thrilled by some aspects of the genocide account in the Hotel Rwanda film, whose lead role was played by another Hollywood import, Don Cheadle.

But I have to wonder whether the South African vexation and protest is sincere. Nobody seemed to care from their side, when movies like the Ghost and the Darkness, were shot in their neighbourhood, instead of the original Kenyan location of Tsavo National Park.

To an extent, how Kenyans felt about South Africans portraying Maasai tribesmen in the movie, is now what the South Africans are feeling, about Hudson playing the role of Winnie Mandela.

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