History of the World According to the Movies: Part 16 – Africa

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Sure this is a movie about something that happened during the 1990s as well as centers on a real guy who’s still alive, yet Hotel Rwanda is a good movie to picture because it’s about an ordinary African man who saved so many lives at a great cost to himself. Of course, this takes place during the Rwandan genocide with AK-47s and machetes galore. Still, the reality of this event was much worse than depicted and Don Cheadle’s character paid a much bigger price for his efforts.

Africa: the cradle of humanity. For its thousands years of history, it has been home to great tribes, cultures, kingdoms, and civilizations. Not only has it been the home of Ancient Egypt but also of Carthage, Nubia in the ancient world. In the European Middle Ages, it was home to great empires and kingdoms like Mali, Aksum, Songhai, Great Zimbabwe, Asante, and so many others all a unique culture of riches, rituals, and innovations. However, if you should ever dare making a movie pertaining to this history of Africa, then a Hollywood producer will probably tell you to get a job for National Geographic. After all, Hollywood is simply not interested in the African history that doesn’t contain violence, oppression, poverty, human rights violations, disease, crazy dictators, poaching on endangered species, or Europeans (or biblical figures in that matter). I mean the only reason why Hollywood would ever do something on African history is to present people being subject to unimaginable horrors as well as make themselves look good. Of course, depictions of African history tend to be either racist, violent, or both. Nevertheless, while Africa is a continental hellhole it’s seen on film, there’s more to African history than that, much more. We also know it’s a home to a lot exotic animals, but we know everyone likes to see them on nature documentaries. Nevertheless, out of movies on African we do have, filmmakers can make a lot of use of artistic license, and here are the inaccuracies, I’ll show here.

Ethiopia:

Ethiopia has always been a heavily pagan and juju spirit believing culture. (It is also has some of the oldest churches and synagogues in Africa as well as a sizeable Muslim population. Orthodox Christianity was introduced in the 4th century and Judaism even earlier and was said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba from the King Solomon stories.)

King Solomon got together with the Queen of Sheba. (There’s no record of this, not even in the Bible.)

Zimbabwe:

Great Zimbabwe was built by a lost white race. (This is about as true as saying that Great Zimbabwe was built by aliens. This notion was debunked in 1905.)

The DRC:

The DRC was always the DRC. (It had been called Zaire for a while and had its named changed back to the DRC in 1997.)

Sierra Leone:

The De Beers company secretly hired Executive Outcome to make a fortune out of diamond mining during a civil war in Sierra Leone. Also, Executive Outcome was also a mining company and received diamond mining concessions as payment. (They were actually solely a military contract company like Blackwater hired by the government of Sierra Leone. Their main job was to retake the rebel-controlled diamond field used to raise funds {but they didn’t mine or take diamonds from the fields}, which they did. De Beers had no links to EO during the 1999 civil war in Sierra Leone.)

Somalia:

Muse had his hand sliced open in the trap of broken glass. (The trap of broken glass didn’t happen though Muse did get his hand sliced open when he was captured by the crew and he went below deck with a crew member unarmed.)

Captain Philips was held hostage by Somali pirates for a day and half. (It was actually for five days.)

The Americans were working alone in Somalia to capture Mohamed Farrah Aidid in the battle of Mogadishu. (Actually they had help from the Malaysians and the Pakistanis. Also, it was a Malaysian general who was at the command at Mogadishu. Apparently, the Malaysians’ beef with Black Hawk Down is perhaps justified.)

Captain Philips offered his life and let himself be a hostage in exchange for the pirates leaving the ship when his 2nd mate was going to be shot. (According to TTI: “In reality, Phillips never offered his life and was more the subject of a botched hostage exchange than letting himself become one, which he himself admits in interviews. Additionally, some of Phillips’ former crew feel he was responsible for the hijacking because he ignored suggestions to steer the ship farther from the coast, but Phillips countered that they would have been just as unsafe 600 miles away as they were at 300.”)

South Africa:

White South Africans were rich and racist and were either Afrikaans or Rooineks. (Actually there are plenty of white South Africans who aren’t of Dutch or British descent as well as plenty who live in the middle class alongside blacks since South Africa is the most middle class African country. And I’m sure there are some white South Africans who aren’t racist {like Alan Paton and F. W. deClerk}. There’s also a sizable Asian population, too.)

The Springboks rugby team’s winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup brought everlasting racial unity in South Africa. (Contrary to Invictus, the feeling of apparent racial unity lasted about a month. The winning team was later plagued by racism with Matt Damon’s character organizing a standoff with the South African Rugby Union and offered the other players sweet deals to sign with the World Rugby Corporation, except the token black player who got less than the others despite being one of the most popular on the team.  Another player Geo Cronje refused to share rooms or shower with his black teammates as recently as 2003. They also had a bad succession of coaches after their World Cup-winning coach had to step down due to leukemia.)

Black South African women had limited roles in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. (There was a 1956 Anti-pass march co-organized by the Federation of South African Women. So women were pretty active in the movement.)

Nelson Mandela’s political views didn’t change while he was in prison. (Except for not wanting apartheid, many of them did. For instance, he started out as a radical who favored nationalizing key industries. And he wasn’t initially in favor of adopting a multi-racial view of South Africa. Oh, and he was also a communist, which has been a South African open secret for years.)

Winnie Mandela was an irrational Lady Macbeth type woman who was the cause of the black-on-black violence in the 1980s and early 1990s South Africa. (She wasn’t. The violence was actually between the African National Congress and state-funded proxy organizations.)

Nelson Mandela was the major figure in the anti-apartheid movement. (Mandela was chosen by a committee in the ANC as the international face of the movement. Also, he was in prison much of the time. Still, the ANC’s work on social justice relied on collective and collaborative leadership. Of course, films about Mandela tend to ignore guys like Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo and Oliver Tambo working behind the scenes. Ever heard of them? Neither did I.)

The African National Congress was a peaceful political organization. (It initially started out as a paramilitary group, which bombed public buildings in order to destabilize the South African government. In some ways, they started out no differently than some Mideast terrorist organizations.)

Prison guard James Gregory had a close relationship with Nelson Mandela while the latter was in prison. (Nelson Mandela only mentions him twice in his autobiography and they barely spoke to each other. Also, his friends were furious that the guy wrote a book about it which was later turned into a movie.)

Nelson Mandela spent his whole nearly 30 year prison sentence on Robben Island. (He only spent 17.5 years of his sentence there. He actually initially imprisoned Johannesburg then Pretoria for a year and a half during his trial then sent to Robben Island. After spending his 17.5 years there, he was sent to Pollsmoor Prison for 6 years, then to Victor Verster Prison for 2 years until his release. So though he did spend almost 30 years in prison, he didn’t spend it all in one place.)

White South Africans referred to blacks by the “k-word” during apartheid. (Even under apartheid it was illegal to use this word.)

The first meeting between white reporter Donald Woods and Stephen Biko went rather swimmingly. (Actually Biko gave a more powerful and confrontational speech saying he was trying to discourage hatred of any sort as well as liberate black people not white liberals.)

Stephen Biko was chaste, humble, and non-violent. (He was known for speaking fierly, wittingly, and colloquially  with references of “hey, man!” in his speeches. Also, he was known to be a womanizer despite having a wife and long-term mistress.)

Uganda:

Bob Astles was a Scottish physician who was a loveable rouge who helped bring down the Idi Amin regime. (Astles wasn’t Scottish nor a doctor and wasn’t a nice guy {he was called the second most hated man there as well as nicknamed “The White Rat”}. Actually he was an adviser to the regime Amin overthrew and was tortured and imprisoned for 17 weeks after the despot took power until he gave Astes a job {though Astles had been living in Uganda for 30 years and was in his 50s unlike James McAvoy’s character in The Last King of Scotland who’s his expy}. Oh, and he never fooled around with one of Amin’s wives either {though there was a doctor who did but he was African}. And he tried to flee Uganda when Amin was overthrown in 1979 but brought back to face criminal charges and prison.)

Idi Amin killed his wife for getting knocked up by doctor. (Her lover accidently killed her while giving her a botched abortion and later killed himself. Of course, Idi was probably the reason why she’d seek abortion in the first place and would’ve killed her anyway if he ever found out.)

Only one hostage was killed during the rescue operation at the Entebbe Airport. (Three were and a fourth would be killed later at a hospital by Ugandan Army officers.)

Rwanda:

The Rwandan Tutsis were victims of a savage Hutu driven genocide in Rwanda solely because they always hated each other. (The Tutsis and Hutus had been at odds with each other since Belgian rule since Belgium often appointed Tutsis as their colonial retainers in the region. Before the Belgian intrusion, they managed to at least coexist peacefully since the Tutsis were herders and the Hutus were farmers. Not to mention, Tutsi and Hutu relations in Rwanda had been strained for years and there have been incidences of anti-Tutsi violence in the country since the 1960s.)

Paul Rusesabagina was a Hutu. (Yes, but only on his father’s side. His mother was a Tutsi.)

Tatiana Rusesabagina never understood why he had to stand behind to protect people sheltering in his hotel. (She actually did if reluctantly for good reason.)

Tatiana Rusesabagina was angry about Paul putting her and their kids on a truck to escape the Hôtel des Mille Collines, which was a last minute decision on his part. (She was actually sad but nevertheless accepted the decision due to the circumstances. Also, he discussed the matter with her and the kids the night before the attempted evacuation.)

Paul Rusesabagina’s extended family managed to survive the Rwandan genocide in one piece. (Actually though Paul and his wife and kids managed to survive, many of his relatives weren’t so lucky. During the genocide though Paul did everything in his power, Tatiana lost her mother, father {who had to pay soldiers to shoot him instead of lopping off his limbs one at a time}, brother, sister-in-law, and four nieces and nephews. Paul lost four brothers. Furthermore, his actions earned him so many death threats after the genocide that he and his family had to move to Belgium. So the ending to real Hotel Rwanda wasn’t nearly as happy as it was depicted in the film {it still isn’t}. And the genocide depicted is depicted less violent in Hotel Rwanda than it really was.)

The United Nations helped save some of the Rwanadans from slaughtering each other. (Sure the UN did help some, but they never called what was happening in Rwanda a “genocide”  until years after it happened, despite evidence that the Tutsi population was being massacred. Many affected by it are still not being helped by the UN.)

Libya:

Libyan rebel leader Omar Mukhtar was brought down when his horse was shot and thrown aside. (He’s actually said to be pinned under it but the scene plays out like this in Lion of the Desert probably because being under a horse would’ve been unsafe for Anthony Quinn.)

Benito Mussolini sent Rodolfo Graziani to take over as governor of Libya in 1929. (He sent him the next year and only as vice-governor unlike what Lion of the Desert would tell you. Nevertheless, he took over a disastrous military campaign against the Libyan rebels that had been going on since 1923.)

Rodolfo Graziani graciously returned Omar Mukhtar’s glasses to him after they had been stolen from a previous battle. This happened during the rebel leader’s show trial in Benghazi. (Transcripts reveal that Mukhtar had to ask Graziani for his glasses back, which his interrogators considered outrageous.)

Miscellaneous:

African civilization has mostly been tribal and rather primitive. (Lo, they forget that Egypt is an African country and the African Kingdoms of Mali, Songhai, Nubia, Zimbabwe, and others. Of course, there are still African tribes as always but there were African kingdoms, too.)

African slavery didn’t exist until the European slave trade. (Yes, it did but not as you know it. Africans had been slaving each other for centuries, but they treated their slaves as servants or even members of the family.)

No African tribe profited from the slave trade. (Europeans befriended paid certain African tribes to get captives from their rivals. Many West African tribes made a lot of money on this.)

Africa has always been a continent full of black people with the exception of Egypt. (Even though the people in North Africa tend to be considered Arabs than black. Also, the fact that there is a sizable white population in South Africa and that the continent is home to Indians and Asians as well. Gandhi was even there once.)

All black Africans tended to resemble those from West Africa. (The reason why movies depict Africans as if they are from West and Central Africa is because it’s where many ancestors of African Americans came from. Yet, not all Africans in Africa look like that.)

Black Africans were primitive, childlike, superstitious, believed in witchcraft and voodoo, lived in huts, defended themselves with spears and shields, could be easily scared by modern technology, or be easily ripped off being sold worthless junk. (Superstitious, yes, believed in witchcraft and voodoo yes, lived in huts, sort of, defended themselves with spears and shields, perhaps, could be easily ripped off, maybe, could be easily scared by modern technology, maybe. However, primitive and childlike, hell no.)

Blacks were enslaved by kidnapping. (They were usually enslaved through war but yeah, it’s kind of accurate.)

Most of Africa has been ruled by strongmen dictators who lived like kings. (Actually besides South Africa there have been African nations that have enjoyed stable democratic rule like Kenya at least most of the time.)

Much of Africa was independent by the 1950s. (Most African countries wouldn’t gain their independence until the 1960s.)

The Zulu had mass marriage ceremonies in front of the king. (I’m not sure about that.)

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One response to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 16 – Africa

  1. You didn’t mention the movies were there were head hunters and piranha fish that would eat people down to their skeletons if they fell in the river!

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