Column: Simplistic film portrayals of African conflicts are harmful

Didactic movies about African conflicts are prominent in western media because they entertain their audience while highlighting an unfamiliar but heartbreaking injustice. It often seems that these movies are positive because they inform the audience of a difficult situation abroad, but the dramatization of these injustices oversimplifies complex issues and relies on the belief that foreign land need to be saved. 

This practice is not always intentional, but it is harmful to the audience’s understanding of history. For example, “Hotel Rwanda” recounts the 1994 Rwanda genocide in whichHutus extremists blamed the Tutsi minority for the country’s increasing difficulties. In the span of six weeks, 800,000 people were killed. 

“Hotel Rwanda” is based on a true story and follows a hotel manager who saved over one thousand people. The movie, often played in high schools because it covers an important topic in recent world history, oversimplified the situation however. It emphasized a dichotomy of good versus evil, making the Tutsi people the innocent victims and the Hutu the evil doers, without proper historical and cultural context. This fuels anger and enforces polarizing differences.

It is common for cinema to follow one main character or family throughout a struggle because it allows the audience to form a connection with the characters. “Hotel Rwanda” follows Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager, in order to relay the tragedy of the genocide. His story displays the hope of people risking their lives to save others, however, following this single storyline undermines the struggles of the entire nation in turmoil.

Another example of this is the movie “The Good Lie” which follows a family’s struggles to get to a refugee camp in Kenya from Sudan and their trip to America. This focus emphasizes one story as more important than the situation as a whole when understanding an events complexity is a necessity for a global citizens.

Film makers rely on western audience’s preconceptions of Africa as a foreign land that needs saving. This perpetuates the rhetoric that western powers used to invade the continent in the 1800s. Instead, people need to recognize that Africa is an entire continent with multiple countries in various situations. 

Film makers are profiting on the basis that they are calling attention to a conflict that needs awareness. People are failing to recognize that supporting a cause and supporting a movie about a cause are not the same thing. It is also important to understand that movies are not meant for education but for entertainment. If the goal is to be an informed global citizen, it is important to do in depth research through valid sources. If the goal is entertainment, we should not use the pain of others’ as a means to that end.

These film makers draw attention to these various conflicts. Some audience members may go on to research the topic further, to donate to the cause, or possibly to volunteer to help. The moralistic tones of the movies lead the audience to feel inclined to do so. However, their motivation does not excuse the oversimplification and prophetization of others’ hardships. The claims of good intentions would be more convincing if film makers volunteered or set some of the profits aside for the cause they are bringing attention to.


Alyssa Luis is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.