This is the story of one of the most unusual clubs in the world: La SAPE. Its members, the Sapeurs, come from the Democratic Republic of Congo and have elevated fashion to the status of a religion. Despite extreme economic hardships the Sapeurs will only settle for the likes of Roberto Cavalli, Yohji Yamamoto, Versace, Issey Miyake and Burberry. Set to the soundtrack of Congo's extraordinary music, the film follows the cult's founder and spiritual father, Papa Wemba, the world-famous musician known as 'Le Roi De La Sape' (The King of la Sape). The film starts with Wemba's release on bail in July 2003 from French prison after being charged with smuggling illegal immigrants into Europe for profit. For several months, the filmmakers followed Wemba trying to piece his life back together. Threatened with legal fees and an upcoming trial, he recorded a new album and prepared for an extravagant concert in Paris. Meanwhile his followers, Congolese immigrants living in Paris and Brussels, were... Written by
George Amponsah & Cosima Spender
With all that's happening in the world in the 21st Century, it was disheartening to suffer through this pointless time-killer cranked out for the BBC. I saw it at the NYPL as part of an African film festival, and didn't learn a thing other than mindless trivia.
It appears to have been a sort of puff piece approved by Congolese musical star Papa Wemba, on the occasion of his being jailed in France, accused of involvement in human trafficking (i.e., spiriting folks into the Gallic homeland under the pretense of them being band members). What results is cinema verite style crap making fun of him, and his entourage of idiotic followers.
I was able to infer a message in this madness, namely the frequently harped upon (especially by Spike Lee and other cinematic separatists) warning to Black people everywhere not to fall under the sway of false gods and values, particularly the quest after the White Man's imperialistic mammon. Malcolm X probably stated it best, but it's a theme worth heeding nearly 50 years after his heyday. Closer to home it appears trivially in the one-upsmanship (hardly limited to Black youngsters) regarding acquisition of overpriced Nikes, cell phones and other gadgetry.
So we are treated to a not-even-campy parade of the diaspora from the former Belgian Congo, now living in Paris and Brussels where the poor blokes can barely get a job but somehow manage to scrape up money (illegally) to buy name fashions from Dolce & Gabbana and top Italian and French designers.
None of them, especially dear Papa Wemba, give back to their community or support the efforts of their brethren. Amongst the endless namedropping here I never heard one Black fashion designer mentioned. It's all about spending 8,000 euros on a fancy fur coat or a horrendous looking sports jacket, the likes of which reminded me of those old Redd Foxx jokes of my childhood on the order of "How fast did you have to run to catch that...?" (usually applied when one was caught wearing loud-colored slacks usually only found on the golf course a la Jesper Parnevik).
There are several obvious muck-raking segments where so-called documentarists George Amponsah and Cosima Spender delve into the darkside. Wemba is a modern poster child for Payola, his version being a Congolese tradition (according to this film at any rate) of being paid exorbitant sums by fans and cronies in exchange for sort of good-luck mentions of them by name or nickname in his songs when he broadcasts them or performs them.
Oh, the innocent days of the '50s and the '60s when djs would issue dedications on the radio; here we're talking about a big-buck source of revenue for same. And apparently a web of corruption amongst the coterie and entourage surrounding Wemba selling these mentions second hand because one has "access" to the big guy.
Wemba's own frequent self-serving pronouncements and homilies regarding religion and his own inflated opinion of himself are nauseating. This windbag may not deserve a jail term, but he's no better (and perhaps worse) than the usual nut-case cult leaders we have in America, reminding me at times of the worst role models of all, the religious fakirs who preach a "get rich, and send me the money" form of materialism on steroids. Yes the Church of Jesus Christ as Ben Bernanke.
For an interesting counter-cultural peek at fashion-obsessed, wrong-headed souls, Jennie Livingston's classic "Paris Is Burning" remains the only game in docu town. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ELEGANT belongs in a landfill somewhere in Cornwall rather than a emission from the Beeb.
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