Academic Writing

Monday, December 25, 2006

Blood Diamond - 12/25/06

Diamonds Might Not Be Your Best Friend

Conflict diamonds: diamonds mined by slave labor and fueled by an army of kidnapped children. Did Americans even know this was an issue before Leonardo DiCaprio got involved?

Blood Diamond, directed by Edward Zwick, recounts the series of events surrounding the conflict over diamonds in the Sierra Leone region in Africa in 1999. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is taken hostage by rebel forces after they destroy his village and kidnap his family. The RUF force him to work in the illegal diamond mines. While enslaved, Vandy discovers a rare 100-karat pink diamond which soon becomes the object of everyone’s affection. Smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) learns about the pink diamond and makes it his mission to recover the stone and make a significant profit. What he doesn’t count on is the innumerable violent lengths others will take to capture the stone themselves. The war raged over this one diamond, and the violence is never ending, is a microcosm for what was done for countless others.

Matty Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) is a do-gooder journalist type who has been living in the Sierra Leone for 3 months researching information so she can write a heart wrenching and legislative changing piece about the struggle over diamonds in that region. Since the diamond trade in Sierra Leone is illegal because of the great deal of political and social unrest it creates, they are smuggled across the border to Libya and then sold there as though native to that country. Matty has been unable to produce an effective story as of yet because of her lack of hard data. She cannot prove that the diamonds are being smuggled into Libya, and furthermore she has no evidence that they are then being sold to the international diamond seller in England. She hopes that her new acquaintance with Archer will provide her with enough information to write a story which will make a difference to Americans and perhaps force the lawmakers to change their policies.

Our American popular culture elevates journalists to a level where their work can alter public opinion and rally Americans to make a change. When was the last time that was actually the case? For the last half a century movies have taken the stand against political strife and have made efforts to gather people around certain causes. The state of our news media does not seem to be strong enough to make people stand up and make a difference. Bowen laments that fact when she tries to explain why the world isn’t coming to the people of the Sierra Leone’s rescue. She comments about how she can work for weeks on a piece, and her story might only air for a few minutes between sports and weather. The news networks, some of which exist just for 24-hour coverage, insist on pandering to an audience which only will watch what it wants to see. The fighting and violence isn’t as much fun as the latest Hollywood break-up or celebrating your team’s big win. People don’t want to focus on things that upset them too much, especially if they can’t really do much to change it. There aren’t too many things people can do from overseas that can rectify the situation, as Matty says, "What, are they going to send a check?" Even a donation cannot stop the magnitude of the warfare going on in the region. The irony is, of course, that films, which were invented to entertain, are now being used to inform and educate while journalism (especially television journalism) has become a venue for entertainment.

Ultimately the movie wants Americans to be more aware of the purchases they make and the consequences they might have. The closing disclaimer pleads with audiences to make sure that the diamonds they purchase are conflict-free. However, there is no real information about how to go about doing that. That might be the eventual lesson of the movie – that this is a film. In the end, while it is a gateway for learning about a world issue, this is a form of entertainment. The movie should serve as an introduction to a topic of concern and hopefully it will inspire audiences to become more informed about it.

Topics exploring African politics are currently very much in-vogue in filmmaking today, and making them relevant to Americans a big challenge. Of course, it helps when Leo is front and center of the issue (it helps even more when he isn’t wearing his shirt). Within the narrative of the film, however, the relevance is made clear. In one conversation we learn how conflict diamonds should be applicable to Americans’ lives. Matty berates Danny for smuggling diamonds and perpetuating the violence, but Danny insists he is providing a service that the market demands. "American girls dream of the storybook wedding," they all want the giant rock on their finger. This movie’s claim is that without even knowing it, our American standards are fueling a war thousands of miles away.

The movie does not focus on American versus non-American values; it barely focuses on racial issues. This movie has a mission and it does not want its message to get buried under a pile of other problems the world is facing. The biggest issue is clearly freeing the market from conflict diamonds and those who are tortured because of them. The other issue is that of insiders versus outsiders, in other words, Africans versus non-Africans. Archer is a white South African who talks about Africa being in his blood. Solomon is a black African whose family has been stolen and enslaved. Matty is an American who takes pictures and cries over the sights of all that is happening to these people. But ultimately, regardless of her efforts to become a part of it, she is an outsider.

The movie makers want audiences to understand why there is so much unrest. The land is so important to the African people, and even though there is great value in the resources it produces, the connection goes much deeper. Africans have seen their parents, children, friends and countless others murdered over the land. Archer laments never escaping the harsh reality that is his life; however, when given the chance he cannot seem to leave. His life is in Africa and no matter how much he tries, he cannot escape it. Furthermore, outsiders cannot understand the connection despite their efforts. Matty wants so much to be a part of it, but she is unable to truly understand; unless you have lived and lost in Africa, you are an outsider. The black-white issue isn’t nearly as dramatic as the African-non African dichotomy.

The hope is that this movie entertains audiences. However, other purpose is to educate audiences about an issue that claimed thousands of peoples’ lives. While the conflict in the Sierra Leone has ended, the movie makes sure to tell audiences that conflict diamonds still exist and they should be aware of what purchasing them means. Furthermore, there are still thousands of child slaves in African (and throughout the world). Perhaps if they are educated about history and current policies that will ensure that history does not repeat itself.

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