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March 2007
TIA—This is America
Film Review by Sangamithra Iyer


Blood Diamond
Directed by Edward Zwick.
2 hours and 18 minutes.

Everybody wants Heaven but nobody wants dead
Everybody wants Diamonds without the Bloodshed
—“Shine On” by NAS

Set in 1999 in the midst of Sierra Leone’s civil war between the government and the notorious hand-chopping Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond portrays the dark side of a bright rock. The film is shaped around the intersecting paths of a smuggler, a journalist and a father in pursuit of his son. Solomon Vandy’s (Djimon Hounsou) village was destroyed, family displaced and son abducted into combat by the RUF. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary turned diamond smuggler, seeks Solomon’s assistance in pursuit of the perfect gem, with the promise that he’ll help him get his son back. And the righteous American journalist, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) needs Danny and Solomon’s stories to prove how the diamond industry is not only witness to, but complicit in the bloodshed ravaging this West African nation.

While a bit hesitant to see how yet another Hollywood thriller would dramatize an African tragedy, I must admit I was surprisingly impressed. Not by Leo’s feigned Krio, the local creole, but rather by how the film shed light on the plight of child soldiers. We watch Solomon’s son Dia and his peers be indoctrinated into violence—brainwashed to believe they are “heroes” saving the nation, trained with AK-47s, given nicknames like “Baby Killer,” and drugged, allowing them to commit and forget their horrible acts. The film also briefly conveys the challenges involved in their rehabilitation.

Blood Diamond attempts to present the intricate web connecting the diamond trade with the arms trade. We are told in opening credits that this partnership has resulted in thousands dead, and millions displaced in Sierra Leone—none of whom have ever seen a diamond.

TIA—This is Africa—is an expression used by characters in the film to explain this cycle of greed and violence. But considering that the U.S. consumes two-thirds of the world’s diamonds and supplies the majority of the world’s arms, perhaps TIA—This is America—is more accurate.

Yet the American journalist contends “People back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone else their hand.”

So will this Warner Brothers blockbuster, grossing over $50 million in sales, make Americans question their “bling bling” knowing that in Africa it’s “bling bang”?

Diamonds are Forever
We all know that De Beers is PR savvy, so it’s not surprising they had their response ready for guilt-ridden film viewers. In November 2006, before the cinematic release of Blood Diamond, 71 governments and the World Diamond Council agreed on measures to further strengthen the UN-mandated Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process, adopted in 2002, certifies diamonds as “conflict-free,” and claims that 99 percent of diamonds traded today are from conflict-free sources.

Prior to a UN screening of Blood Diamond, the UN Correspondents Association hosted a press briefing to share the progress that has happened over the past few years since the end of the civil war. An expert from the Special Court for Sierra Leone discussed the upcoming trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for his involvement buying diamonds and financing the RUF. A representative from the Kimberley Process talked about commitments to work out the kinks in their certification scheme. And in case anyone was wondering if diamonds were really worth all this trouble, the CEO of the Jeweler’s Vigilance Committee recommended, a website created by the World Diamond Council—specifically in response to Blood Diamond—to remind us of all “the good that diamonds do.”

The PR geniuses that suckered Americans into shelling out three months salary to commemorate love, are now trying to convince us buying diamonds is an act of philanthropy. In reaction to this blockbuster, the diamond industry has created the ultimate Hollywood ending.

Is Conflict-free Cruelty-free?
While might convince you the diamond trade is all cleaned up, the parody shows another side of the story. It is estimated that every year 300,000 carats of diamonds are still mined with slave labor in the rebel-held camps in the Ivory Coast and are making their way to the international market. The Kimberley Process may certify diamonds as conflict-free, but it is not independently monitored, and conflict is so narrowly defined it does not include child labor, state sanctioned violence, environmental destruction or poor working conditions. And regardless where they were mined, the majority of diamonds are cut and polished in India, often by bonded child laborers.

Amnesty International and Global Witness have found the diamond industry has failed to “adequately implement a system of self-regulation.” While the World Diamond Council wants you to believe that diamonds are beneficial to African countries, even amongst the highest diamond exporting countries, the majority of the people live in abject poverty. To make matters worse, mining has brought these countries environmental degradation, contamination of water supplies, and displacement of indigenous populations. A self-regulated diamond industry is about as promising as a self-regulated arms industry. Neither of which can ever be conflict-free.

Bling Bang
It shocks, so many are killed annually
‘ Cause of greed, lust, and pure Vanity
Stop talkin’ and do somethin’ about it

Perhaps the success of Blood Diamond should be judged not by how many Oscars it wins at the Academy Awards, but how much bling will be shining in the audience. TIA—This is America.

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