Friday, 19 January 2007

The Last King of Scotland

Writing in yesterday’s Guardian, Vanessa Walters does not like this film. That’s her business, of course, but most of her criticisms are spurious and (dare I speculate?) sound very much post facto.

The film-makers… play to some of the worst stereotypes of corrupt, murderous, incompetent and ridiculous black leaders. I think it’s fair to say that Idi Amin was murderous and (horribly) ridiculous. Clearly those that stood by him and enriched themselves during the violence were corrupt (rather a kind word for such people). Since despite all their violence they could not ultimately hold on to power (let alone govern well enough to endear themselves to the people of Uganda), it is hardly ‘playing to a stereotype’ to call them incompetent. Furthermore, of the three black leaders we actually see in action, one, the Health Minister, is none of the above, but a victim of the General’s paranoia.

Most reviewers have failed to clock the fact that the “white man trying to save ethnic man” from himself is a well-worn caricature. This reviewer has failed to clock that that caricature does not actually appear in the film. Garrigan makes precious little efforts to ‘save’ Amin morally – and since he is a medical doctor it is hardly inappropriate that he should be portrayed as ‘saving’ Amin & family from various medical ailments as the film goes on. The other white people in the film are a doctor and his wife working in the countryside (how dare they try to save the ‘ethnic people’!?) and sinister, smarmy British Government officials in Kigale who are not intersted in saving anyone.

Does Walters not wonder why scary men running around Uganda with AK47s are such an easy stereotype? Perhaps it’s because such men with such weapons did indeed run round said country during Amin’s rule… And another stereotype is the plethora of scantily-clad go-go dancers and other exotic, sexually available women to be bedded by Garrigan. Has she not spotted that there are quite a few films in which the male protagonist sleeps with more than one woman? This is not a piece of racist stereotyping – it’s a sad reflection on promiscuity and the hatred of God’s standards in the world at large. And what’s so exotic about these women? Does Walters mean to suggest that they are exotic because they are black? (What does she expect? How many white Ugandan women are there!?) Sounds like a piece of racist stereotyping to me…

Africa is presented as a place of violence and superstition, ruled by fear. Africa is not presented at all: a fictionalised Uganda is. (Never mind the widespread superstition and violence that actually exist in some places in Africa, as elsewhere in the world…)

White Nicholas Garrigan comes off very badly in the film. He is naïve, cocky, irresponsible, and a sexual predator. There is very little catharsis at the end of the film as a result of anything Garrigan does. He just wants to go home to his mummy. The murder of the black doctor who saves Garrigan provides the limited catharsis on offer. The British Government comes off very badly in the film. Mistreating Amin when he was a nobody, bringing him to power and then trying to have him assassinated without actually standing up to him...

Two of the people I want to see the film with didn’t like it either. But at least they were honest about why they didn’t like it: it was graphic and often unpleasant, and offered no easy answers (being more 'art-house' than 'hollywood'). But it was honest, too, not to mention well-made and well-acted by all and sundry. White or black, man is inhuman to his fellow man on a grand scale and on a petty scale. Witnessing this, even at such a remove, throws light on the urgency and the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ.