Wednesday, March 21, 2007

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last king of scotland - the movie

last king of scotland premiered in uganda right around the time seth arrived in town...about 5 weeks ago. it was a big deal - forest whittaker was here, there was a red carpet at garden city. we didn't have enough connections - although we do know the bbc correspondent - to get us to the premiere, but i wasn't going to miss the chance to see the film. this is the first movie about uganda filmed in uganda, and i'm in uganda. i had to see it.

i am proud and grateful that the movie was filmed in uganda because years down the road i can watch it again and see uganda as it is. uganda scenery, uganda people, uganda idiosyncracies that are so familiar. i wish it had been a movie with a more uplifting plot, but as seth pointed out there are probably 100 countries that have never been a hollywood filming location. so, i'm happy i at least got something because it's true - some of the scenes, especially in the beginning, are very quintessential uganda.

knowing only the peripheral history of amin (this movie compels me to learn more), i cannot comment much on the in/accuracy of his portrayal. even so, i think the movie does a good job of tracing amin's trajectory from beloved savior to quirky paternalistic leader to sadistic despot. although dr. nicholas garrigan is a completely fictional character, he is a good stand-in for illustrating how ugandans were caught up in and affected by amin's transformation over his 8 years of power. in the beginning, amin brought nicholas into his inner circle, impressed him with his charm and magnetism. eventually, amin drew a line between those on his side and those against, taking care of his own. he terrorized the country, but sheltered nicholas from the bloodshed. by the end, however, very few were sheltered and all were in danger, including his former most trusted personal advisor.

the end of the movie is intense and at turns made me cringe and at others made me want to cry, not because of the torture suffered by nicholas but because of the atrocities suffered by uganda under amin. most understated line of the film: "there is too much hatred. our country is drowning in it."

i appreciated the movie for forcing me to think more closely about uganda's history and politics. the other night at dinner, our visiting friend erin asked my opinion of museveni. i wasn't able to say much other than that i felt he missed his chance to be a leader among african leaders when he rewrote the constitution to authorize himself to seek another term as president. otherwise, i am pretty uninformed. i am starkly reminded of nicholas and his naivete when he off-handedly says to sarah, "right, obote. he was the guy here before, and now it's what's his name? oh right, amin." i have a colleague who grew up in the congo and now devotes her professional career to working in africa. i asked her about her reactions to the film. she said that she felt it was a good portrayal of how westerners unknowningly affect local situations negatively because they fail to do their pre-homework.

prior to discovering npr, i was essentially tuned out of the political scene in the u.s. once i became an npr convert, however, i at least could talk the talk and form my own informed opinions. here, in uganda, i get all of my news and current events from bbc world. bbc world is good and there is a bbc africa segment, but overall the programming is not uganda specific and i continue to be somewhat unaware politically. i don't want to be another oblivious dr. nicholas garrigan, so i am hereby committing myself to investing more time into staying up-to-date. first step, read the local newspapers (there are two: one pro-museveni, one not-so-pro-museveni) more regularly.

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