When Leo met Bogy
Can white people with regular features still save the world?
Hey, we’re in Hollywood, aren’t we? The answer is not no. Blood Diamond serves up some of the grimmest images of modern Africa — young boys trained to be genocidal murderers — embedded in a story embedded in deepest Hollywood — Casablanca, to be precise. There’s even a shot — a particularly shameless shot — of the selfless hero (Leo DiCaprio) telling the heroine (Jennifer Connelly) to get on that plane and save her skinny white ass.1
Leo’s a bad boy, a diamond smuggler. That is, he thinks he’s looking for diamonds; he’s really looking for redemption. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s got the Sidney Carton/Rick Blaine thing down cold. The instrument of Leo’s reformation is a black saint (Djimon Hounsou), with a basso voice (of course; all good African men have deep, deep voices), kidnapped and taken from his family and set to work in a diamond mine. Since we’re in Hollywood, not Africa, he finds a huge one and manages to hide it before getting thrown into prison by government troops, which is where Leo comes in.
Despite the terrible scenes of carnage and genocidal slaughter that we’re shown, the plot of the film never rises above the level of clichés that some people in Hollywood were trying to abandon back in the fifties. When Leo and Djimon come under fire, it’s Leo who saves Djimon: “Get down, get down,” he tells him, as if any human being, black or white, would not instantly fall to earth when people start shooting. Djimon is such a perfect innocent that he leaps up in front of a truck full of drunken, bloodthirsty soldiers just because he thinks one of them might be his son. Who cares if I get killed, damn it! I have to do what’s right!2)
When will Hollywood ever get it through its thick head that presenting blacks as innocent children is demeaning, paternalistic, and condescending, not to mention totally fucking racist? Probably never, because if blacks are as smart as we are, we won’t be needed to save them. And if they can save themselves, we won’t be able to congratulate ourselves on how wonderful we are. Oy vey, oy vey, oy vey. Such is the perversity of human nature, dude, and you can quote me.
The message of this film — “Don’t buy diamonds from bad people” — definitely had an impact on the crowd I saw the film with. As I was leaving, I heard lines like “I’ll never buy a diamond!” and “These are fake! They cost like two dollars!”
Bill Clinton has an interesting cameo — a newsclip showing him admitting that, well, he really did have sexual relations with that woman. Bill has since said that he wished he hadn’t fucked Monica and that he wished he had stopped genocide in Africa. Well, we all have regrets.
Totally phony shtick: When Jennifer is taking snaps of suffering Africans, we see the pictures in grainy black and white (so authentic!), like she was fucking WeeGee, even though in 1998 her film would surely be color.
- Because, you know, it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. [↩]
- Like those two other innocents, Spock and Data, Djimon rarely uses contractions and has to be taught how to lie. Why do you not tell the man the truth? That is so wrong! (Even though, earlier in the film, he quite naturally and sensibly lies about the diamond. [↩]