Blood Diamond is one of those beautiful movies that can be hard to watch. As a fictional story centered based on true events of exploitation of people for the sake of finding and selling diamonds, the film is often uncomfortable. It’s a reminder of where selfishness, greed, and a capitalism-at-any-cost ideology can lead a person or organization. It’s a reminder of racism, fear, and abuse of power. It’s a reminder of the world’s sins.
Diamonds are only one of the many resources exploited from developing nations in recent history, and in the materialistic cultures of many European and North American nations, films like Blood Diamond can make viewers feel cornered and uncomfortable. Awareness without opportunities for action can turn a temporary sense of consumer guilt into numbness. The tradition of a diamond engagement ring remains, but rings do not typically reveal if they originated from a nation in conflict bolstered by diamond-trade. The attractiveness of a chocolate bar or cheap t-shirt might be lessened if it included a label stating “made with child-labor”, but though “fair-trade” products are available, there are no such negative labels revealing the problem-products. Gas stations are unlikely to label their petrol with a list of values or policies of the leaders or nations that furnished the oil, and the latest cell phone typically does not come with an update on the company’s sources of coltan or other minerals.
It’s a familiar story in Africa – a European nation steeped in a history of exploitation of people and/or resources grants self-government to a former colony or protectorate, and that colony or protectorate descends into a civil war in which people are dismembered, raped, murdered, &/or enslaved as soldiers, workers, or sex slaves. All-the-while developing nations knowingly or unknowingly fund the conflicts through buying products (e.g. diamonds, oil, tires, cell-phone parts, etc.) from and selling weapons to the warring nation. This “familiar story” is painting with a broad brush, and should not be taken as a simple narrative applying to most African nations. The intricacies of these conflicts are accompanied by the complexities of their causes, and it can be difficult to tease out the influence of imperialism and colonialism on these conflicts. However, to deny the historical context and continuing influence of colonialism and imperialism on these conflicts is naive.
Blood Diamond portrays characters that are not naive to the wrongs of their environments. A man seeking to unite his family, a smuggler seeking to utilize his environment to his advantage, and a reporter seeking to expose corruption all come to witness the terrible atrocities and injustices of their surroundings. Familial love, wealth and safety/stability, and the beneficence of humanity are some of the different motivators at play in the film’s characters. As these characters collide the audience is treated to background details of each character that help explain their motives. Like their environment, these characters are complicated and not easy to understand at first glance.
It’s a theme of the film that some of the characters are trying to escape the troubles of the continent. Sometimes called “the dark continent”, the people of Africa continue to deal with a history of oppression at hands of richer nations and more powerful people. But, with good character development, quality acting, and beautifully orchestrated scores this film packs a redemptive message for its characters and its continent.
Like the history of Africa, the history of an individual is complex. To create the best understanding of a person, one must dig into the messy experiences, perceptions, and events of the person’s past. True understanding of a situation reveals a history of fear provoking violence, whether or not that fear is justified. Ethnic, tribal, and general societal relationships can be so continuously flawed that people are tempted to surrender to despair, harden their hearts, and accept the narrative of racism, social injustice, and abuse of power.
But, reconciliation and redemption can change the course of a life, a people, or a nation. The fight for peace, solidarity, and justice may never be completed. One of the beautiful burdens of life is that there’s always something to work towards. Reconciliation and redemption are constant goals, and it’s lovely to see them reflected in Zwick’s Blood Diamond.