Film Review by Sangamithra Iyer
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
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
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
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
www.diamondfacts.org, a website created by the World Diamond Council—specifically
in response to Blood Diamond—to remind us of all “the good that
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 www.diamondfacts.org might convince you the diamond trade is all cleaned
up, the parody www.realdiamondfacts.org 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,
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.
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.
For more information visit http://blooddiamondmovie.warnerbros.com.
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