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Our hearts of darkness: once the setting for Hollywood safari adventures, the war-torn reality of Africa is finally getting a screening.

WHEN I WAS A CHILD, films about Africa were adventurous Saturday afternoon safaris into the jungle with Tarzan or treks across the broad savannahs with Allan Quatermain in search of King Solomon's mines. Sitting in the dark with my buddies, we cheered British troops battling brave warriors in Zulu or bounced along with John Wayne as he chased rhinos in Hatari.

Last year's Sahara--Clive Cussler's silly tale of derring-do across the desert sands--reminded me that Hollywood still makes matinee safaris for 12-year-old boys of every age. But Cussler's movie is in the minority now. The recent crop of Africa films playing at the local cineplex has not come to praise American and European adventurers and explorers journeying into the jungle or across the Transvaal, but to hold up a stark and unflattering mirror to the colonial and neo-colonial footprint these adventurers have left upon the continent and its people.

The most striking thing about American and European adventurers in two recent films about the 1994 Rwandan genocide is their absence. Despite countless calls for help, no American John Wayne or European Allan Quatermain arrives to stop the slaughter of nearly a million Tutsis, and when U.N. peacekeepers do show up, they are only interested in rescuing white tourists and aid workers.

Raoul Peck's riveting Sometimes in April (HBO) recounts the tale of Rwanda's genocide from the perspective of a Hutu army captain (Idris Elba) who is more than a little complicit in the slaughter that ultimately spills over into his own family. Augustin helped train the civilian militia that was transformed into a genocidal mob by the homicidal rants of his brother Honore (Ortis Erhuero) and a legion of other radio broadcasters. Ten years after the massacre that ruptured his nation and killed his wife, Augustin (now a teacher) has come to Tanzania for Honore's trial before the International Criminal Tribunal but knows that he and his fellow citizens share in his brother's guilt and does not see how he or his people can move beyond this awful crime.

PATRICK McCORMICK, professor of Christian ethics at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

TERRY GEORGE'S RWANDA (UNITED ARTists) recounts the tale of Hutu hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina's (Don Cheadle) rescue of 1,200 Tutsis. A gifted and unruffled manager with keen political instincts, Rusesabagina tries to protect his hotel and guests from the spreading maelstrom at his gates, preserving the fiction of civility as his nation descends into murderous chaos. But this fiction evaporates as machete-bearing mobs descend on his Tutsi neighbors and relatives, and polite European society and U.N. peacekeepers evacuate, indifferent to the plight of slaughtered Africans.

There are clear traces of "the white man's burden" of guilt in both these films about African genocide. Belgian colonialism forged the Hutu rage against the Tutsi by creating a caste society in which the Hutus were long oppressed, and American and European governments sat idly by as the genocide rolled on month after month in Rwanda. In Sometimes in April Debra Winger is the State Department official who vainly struggles to convince the Clinton White House to come to the rescue, and in Hotel Rwanda Nick Nolte is the U.N. peacekeeping officer who tells Rusesabagina that no one will be coming to save the Africans.

The violence done to Africans, as well as the First World's indifference and complicity in African death, is different in John le Carre's The Constant Gardener (Focus Features). Here Africans are not slaughtered by other Africans with machetes or ham radios but by an AIDS pandemic that devastates generations and societies. And the indifference of the international community to this ongoing massacre is captured by multinational pharmaceutical companies preying upon the bodies and hopes of the sick and dying to create new TB drugs for the next pandemic.

In le Carre's angry tale, colonial governments and neo-colonial multinational corporations have come to Africa in search of the next pharma-chemical blockbuster, but this medical adventure depends upon the use of unsuspecting Africans as research subjects in dangerous experiments. In order to develop expensive treatments for First World patients these American and European researchers have decided to outsource the infamous Tuskegee experiment to Africa.

UKRAINIAN AMERICAN ARMS MERCHANT URI Orlov (Nicholas Cage) is off to Africa to make his fortune in Andrew Niccol's Lord of War (Lions Gate), and both Uri and his adopted homeland (the largest weapons dealer on the planet) are happy to balance their books by selling weapons of every shape and size to a ragtag collection of petty tyrants, corrupt warlords, and murderous rebels--regardless of the murderous consequences to the impoverished and war-torn African nations that cannot afford to feed the children callously "drafted" into their endless wars and revolutions.

Lord of War makes it clear that while Americans and Europeans are terrified of Third World terrorists getting their hands on a weapon of mass destruction, the major powers of the U.N.'s Security Council are happy to provide Third World despots and insurgents with a cornucopia of the so-called "conventional weapons" that do most of the killing and maiming on the planet--particularly when the vast majority of the victims of all these dirty little wars are the impoverished citizens of the planet's poorest countries. If no one is willing to come to the rescue of Africans in Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April, wealthy nations are only too happy to sell Africans the guns they need to commit their slaughter.

STILL, THERE MAY BE SOME HOPEFUL NEWS. JOHN Boorman s In My Country (Sony Pictures Classics) suggests that post-apartheid Africa has a lesson to teach the First World nations that colonized and now neo-colonize its peoples. Tracking the story of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee's attempt to heal the wounds of apartheid and war, Boorman's film explores a process where victims have a voice and torturers acknowledge their crimes--all without escalating the endless cycle of vengeance and violence. In My Country offers Americans and Europeans an alternative African notion of restorative justice and suggests that forgiveness of one's enemies could be the greatest adventure.
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Author:McCormick, Patrick
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:May 1, 2006
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