The makers of `Tears of the Sun,' blindfolded, maybe just pointed at a list of African nations in which ethnic cleansing has taken place and landed on Nigeria? Actually Nigeria is as good a country to pick on as any. Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are some other nations they had to choose from. Clearly the makers of `Tears' wanted it to take place in Africa, for noble reasons I'm sure. Hollywood has long ignored the tribal warfare and military horrors of many of its nations.
But I wondered how close what happened in the film is to modern conditions in Nigeria. I thought there had to be a reason they picked it. For one, I think they wanted a jungle nation. That eliminates Ethiopia and Sudan, which are eastern, high and dry nations. As for Rwanda (also not a jungle nation), the U.S. presence there in 1994 is still a source of controversy, with questions about the degree of our involvement or lack of it. Also much of that catastrophe was aired on newscasts throughout the world. It's safe to say that the film's makers, understandably, simply wanted nothing to do with that nation. Then there's Nigeria. What takes place in `Tears," the source of the religion-fueled ethnic cleansing depicted, is a military coup d'etat. The truth? A civilian government exists there today, although parts of Nigeria regularly experience localized civil unrest and violence, including in the country's largest city, Lagos. Clearly what takes place in `Tears,' though, at least the events of the coup itself, are modeled after Rwanda.
The choice to use a real nation is curious indeed. To not do so would seem to indict all of Africa in the minds of those with a narrow world view (surely a good portion of the film's potential audience). I guarantee the film will be the ONLY education many people who see the film will get on that country. It's as if the film's makers are saying, 'Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda--one's as bad as another so it doesn't matter which we use.' As I said at the beginning, if any nation deserves to be picked on in this way, Nigeria fits the bill. The problem is that the reasons behind genocide, in any nation in which it takes place, are much more complex than Muslims (easy targets these days) killing Christians.
In the film, the only body commiting murder in the film are the soldiers. In Nigeria's history, the violence has been largely tribes warring with each other, with the military getting involved and sometimes, according to whom you ask, taking sides. What's happening in the film is basically a very one-sided civil war, which is accurate--but more times than not, it's tribe versus tribe that produces the mass killings. By necessity, the filmmakers must take an overly simplistic view of Nigeria's history of unrest. The film tells of a royal family, democratically elected to office, being assassinated. This, as far as I can see from some researching the subject, never happened in Nigeria. Military dictators were overthrown by other military men, and sometimes the outgoing leader was assassinated. Nothing in the scope of the events told in "Tears," though, ever took place. In fact, Nigeria's current president is a civilian, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the country's dictator from 1976 to 1979, was replaced by a civilian, then jailed during the administration of Sani Abacha (who ruled from 1993 until dying of a heart attack in 1998). Obasanjo was freed by Abacha's successor, Abdulsalam Abubakar, in 1998. Abubakar, like Obasanjo in his time, transitioned the country to democracy. Obasanjo ran in the elections of 1999 and won.
What eats me about `Tears of the Sun' and other war films like it (`Behind Enemy Lines' comes to mind) is that just once I'd like to feel like I'm not watching an Army propaganda film. Even `Black Hawk Down' had a certain war hawk-lean to it. This is certainly due to the fact that cooperation with US Armed Forces is vital to the production of these films. Agreements are made-certain lines are not to be crossed, certain information not divulged. But a piece like `Tears' not only doesn't cross the line, it comes off like a navy SEAL training video. A scenario like that told of in `Tears' deserves better than the macho fronting, the just doing my job, ma'am' excuses for inexcusable behavior. Surely audiences deserve a better explanation for ethnic cleansing than it is what they do,' as if the Nigerian woman has no idea why the Nigerian soldiers would commit such atrocities. If you're not willing to answer the question yourself, then don't ask it.
I'm sure `Tears of the Sun' is supposed to be about how humanity is impossible to suppress, even for the most hardened soldier. It's hard to believe they would stand and watch the ethnic cleansing take place for even the short time they do before acting. From where I sat, there seemed to be no choice at all. The only thing to decide is how to stop it. See `No Man's Land' for a better picture of how it's impossible to get in the middle of a conflict and stay neutral.
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