10/22: "The Siege Of Jadotville" and African War Movies

I have an affinity for watching war movies. Even if I outwardly deplore violence in all forms, there is a perverse desire in the human heart to watch men and women in uniform live and die on the battlefield. But more importantly, a lot of really good war movies are just as much about exotic locales as they are about killing the people that live there. And, I don't know if you've heard, but I like writing about travel.

While I could focus on any number of sub-topics here, I'll focus on the continent of Africa and the brand new Netflix Original, The Siege Of Jadotville

From Africa: Blood And Guts to Machine Gun Preacher, virtually every major film about the African continent made by Westerners focuses on people killing each other in horrific ways. Even the films that are not about white folks coming in and saving the day are about atrocities; just look at Hotel Rwanda. Why are do non-war movies about Africa not exist? Part of my brain wants to believe that it is the simple economics about filming overseas, but a closer look reveals the truth. There are no comedies or romances set in Africa because we have conditioned ourselves to believe that laughter and love do not come naturally to that continent. 

OK, there may be one or two comedies about Africa, but they're usually at the expense of the people that live there.

Now, what happens when we drop soldiers from the United Nations into this continent of hate and suffering with the goal of defending people? Ridley Scott asked that question bluntly in Black Hawk Down, when an entire city in Somalia rains down hate on trapped American soldiers. That film is now widely recognized as skillful propaganda for the U.S. Military, but its reputation didn't stop Richie Smyth from making a spiritual successor in The Siege Of Jadotville. This time, Irish troops are sent by the fledgling United Nations to keep peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 1961 civil war. 

Now, for a movie about white men righteously killing Black men, this movie is the tiniest bit self-aware. References to colonialism and the soldiers being unwanted and unnecessary come hard and fast near the beginning of the film, especially from the evil general protecting the mining company's interests. Ireland in particular was chosen by the UN because it has "never conquered another sovereign nation" (though there are many other nations that can also claim to not have conquered. I'm reminded of #NotAllMen.) Furthermore, the entire film centers around the fact that our Irish lads are constantly being abused by their government and by the UN, so who exactly the good guys are kind of gets muddled sometimes.

The "war virgins" preparing to ship out. In front, Jamie "50 Shades Of" Dornan playing a book smart commandant.

The "war virgins" preparing to ship out. In front, Jamie "50 Shades Of" Dornan playing a book smart commandant.

And that's where the nice things I have to say about this movie end. It is unquestionably a simplistic caricature of a few brave white guys holed up against the African hordes, outnumbered and outgunned. As our boys continuously gun down wave after wave of Black bodies from their castle, we see them grow and learn like the true humans they are until they are finally taken captive. The Siege Of Jadotville is a sickening, horrifying film, and I can't possibly fathom why it was made in 2016.

I could write for hours about how many things were uncomfortably terrible, but I'll just circle back to the opening. First, a sun rises over the safari as Commandant Quinlan (Jamie Dornan) says a few words about the African sun either melting or forging you. Sure, makes sense. We then follow Patrice Lumumba, who is not identified at all, getting kidnapped out of the back of his car. Why was it important to show that scene, but not important enough to tell us who he is? But OK, I understand, a political figure is kidnapped and that's a big deal, especially when it turns into a torture scene immediately following that.

This is the image that finally did it for me. Patrice Lumumba's blood splattering on the wood behind his skull as he is shot in the head is not just graphic, it is tasteless. This is different than other depictions of Lumumba's death, especially the famous scene from Lumumba: The Death Of A Prophet, because it has no buildup at all. Only in Africa can a historical figure be turned from Prophet to hamburger within the first minutes of the film seemingly without reason. To kill an important figure in such a way is to erase the deeds of an incredibly important figure and replace them with his gore. And more importantly, it takes the extremely volatile complexities of a political landscape and replaces them with a gunshot.

I don't really have an idea for how to end this piece. So, here's a screenshot from that movie, with Lumumba's character on the right.

I don't really have an idea for how to end this piece. So, here's a screenshot from that movie, with Lumumba's character on the right.