Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blood Diamonds - Give a cow not a diamond

After talking earlier this week about how difficult it is to explicate the links between events in the US and events in other countries, I saw Blood Diamonds. Certainly movies can get one closer to other realities quicker than most other media, and while it still isn't the same as actually being there, this movie makes both the beauty of Africa and the horror of anarchy much more real than reading about these things in the newspaper. Or even seeing short clips on tv. Here, the movie is trying to connect the buying of diamonds in the US with the kidnapping of child soldiers and the weapons that cause such massive violence. Anyone can find fault with details in the movie - DiCaprio certainly manages to run through flying bullets without getting hit through most of the movie - but what was important to me was the whole general sense of what is going on in parts of Africa. (It is also important to recognize that as bad as the violence is, it doesn't represent Africa any more than the murders portrayed in television cop shows represent the US.)

Add this movie to Hotel Rwanda and The Constant Gardner and we have a trio of powerful films showing the links between the worst of Africa and the Western world. In Hotel Rwanda, the links aren't quite so obvious. While the pull-out of the UN troops plays a major role, the role of the colonial heritage in setting up conditions ripe for violence is not as obvious. Constant Gardner does clearly show the Western drug company using Africans to test their drugs in drug trials that would never be allowed in the West. Tsotsi is another film for people wanting to get a sense of Africa.

But how does one respond to all this?
1. One can simply block it out of one's mind on leaving the theater, or at least some people can.
2. Or one can throw up one's hands and say, "There's nothing I can do."
3. Or one can become more conscious of the links between the violence and Africa and Western exploitation of Africa's natural resources - like the oil in Nigeria. Then join organizations that fight these things.
4. Or one can just write a check to one of the many, many organizations that work to improve the lives and living conditions for people in places like Sierra Leone where the events of the movie took place.

The picture above is DiCaprio at the SOS orphanage in Mozambique where some of the actors were recruited.

Another such organization is Doctors Without Borders. which gives medical assistance in war zones.

Before you give to any charity, though, you should check it out at a site like
Charity Navigator which evaluates a charity's efficiency and effectiveness.

You can give directly to an organization, or you can make donations as gifts in the name of someone you love. It's a great way to teach children about the world and about helping other people. Heifer International makes it pretty easy for kids to understand. At Heifer you can give a cow or rabbits or other animals for a family to raise. They'll send you a card for you to send to the person in whose name you donated. So give your love a cow or a goat instead of diamonds this year.

I would also note that the film does a good job of portraying what happens when government fails. Good government tends to be invisible. We enjoy the benefits - clean water, good roads, regulators that keep banks honest and enforce safety standards in the workplace - without even realizing that government is what makes them possible. It is only when they screw up - when potholes don't get filled, or when hurricane victims don't get rescued - that we realize government's role. So we often get a distorted picture of government as ineffective, because we only notice it when it is. It's invisible most of the time, because it works. Movies like this one remind us what happens when law and order are not upheld. It isn't a pretty picture.

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