7.8/10
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20 user 23 critic

Mugabe and the White African (2009)

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An intimate and moving account of one family's extraordinary courage in the face of overwhelming injustice and brutality.
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 2 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »
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Storyline

In 2008 Mike Campbell - one of the few remaining white farmers in Zimbabwe to have held fast in the face of the violent 'Land Reform' programme - took the unprecedented step of challenging President Robert Mugabe before the SADC International Court (SADC - South African Development Community) to defend his farm, which is also home to 500 black workers and their families, and to charge Mugabe and his government with racial discrimination and with violations of Human Rights. Written by Anonymous

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zimbabwe | human rights | racism | See All (3) »

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Release Date:

7 August 2009 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mugabe et l'Africain blanc  »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$1,907 (USA) (23 July 2010)

Gross:

$4,542 (USA) (13 August 2010)
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Featured in Grierson 2010: The British Documentary Awards (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

Interesting, worth seeing, but missing something
8 September 2011 | by (US) – See all my reviews

While this documentary of a white farmer fighting for his land against the bullying dictator Mugabe and his 'land redistribution' program that reportedly redistributed land mostly to his cronies is certainly a stirring, fascinating battle, there is also something a little simplistic in it's attitudes. Almost something a little colonial.

No one can defend Mugabe and his treatment of his own country, but the film acts as if there's no reason for lingering resentment of white, upper-class property holders after centuries of white domination. Even the lead character talks to and about his black workers in a sort of condescending 'see how well I treat them?' sort of way. (And never brings up that he's actually from South Africa, not Zimbabwe - it's not like the land he's fighting for is his ancestral home).

I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on the situation in Zimbabwe (there are some fascinating back and forth arguments in some of the reviews here) But I can't help feeling things are not so simplistic when the white ex-South African owner of a huge farm talks about the blacks he works with as if they were children or less than his equal.

Again, I am in not defending Mugabe. I know enough to see that he is clearly a ruthless, horrendous dictator, who has done great harm to blacks and white alike. I'm saying there is another, more subtle issue in this particular story that gets short shrift, making it feel a bit more like a polemic, and a bit less like an objective view than I wished. I don't know enough about Zimbabwe, but neither does most of the world. Just a few minutes of history to deal with the context both the country's history and the farmer's, might have made me either trust the films' arguments more deeply, or question them more thoroughly. Now I was left with a vague feeling of 'is this the whole story?'

To quote Roger Ebert " "Mugabe and the White African" could certainly have looked more deeply. The filmmakers travel to Kent in England to speak with the family of Campbell's son- in-law, but never have any meaningful conversations with the African workers on Campbell's farm."

Or The New York Times: "It should be pointed out, though, that Ms. Bailey and Mr. Thompson achieve their results largely through the narrowness of their focus. Almost the only voices we hear are those of the farmers, their families and their lawyers... It's possible to honor the suffering of the Campbells and the Freeths and to revile the actions of the Mugabe government and, at the same time, to be uneasy with the emotions the film stirs and to feel that its one-sidedness and its nearly complete lack of historical and cultural context are problems. The farm's black work force is frequently on screen and is presented as sympathetic to its employers, but the workers rarely speak. It's impossible to know what their true, probably complex and contradictory feelings are. Mr. Freeth asks why being a white African should be any different than being a white American or a white Australian. It's a good sound bite, but a moment's reflection tells you that the comparison doesn't hold water: the courses of colonialism and racial strife were radically different in America and Australia than they were in Africa. That doesn't make Mr. Freeth's cause any less just, but it does mean that "Mugabe and the White African" needs to be approached with care.

To sum up: A worthwhile documentary, that gets very tense at times as clandestine footage captures the threats the farmer and his family live under, and their struggle through the courts. But it misses, or perhaps intentionally ignores the bigger picture that explores how things got to where they are in the first place. It's very hard to make any documentary that is explicitly about modern African black on white racism, without looking at the context and the larger history. Not to forgive or absolve it. But to understand it. And surely understanding where an evil comes from is a crucial part of any examination of it.


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