12.18.2010

Johnny Mad Dog

It has been a long time since I've watched a movie about Africa, so this week I decided to go see the film Johnny Mad Dog (as a much needed break from work...although this is typically not the movie you would go to see for the fun of it) at a independent theater just blocks away from my campus. I would have never known about the movie unless my International Relations professor had not have emailed me about it, so thanks Professor Denton!

I've been sitting down for the past half hour trying to thinking about what to say about this film or even hour to begin talking about it, but truly, words fail me...

The film takes place during the Liberia civil war that engulfed West Africa in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Not even 10 years ago, a brutal and extremely bloody war was taking place in West Africa because of politics and diamonds. Children were forced to fight, causing a huge problem with child soldiers. Women became victims of sexual violence and families were torn apart and relocated to enormous refugee camps. Despite all of this, a large majority of the world continued to look on and ignored the conflict there - dismissing it as typical "African issues" when in actuality, they were funding and fueling it through the purchase of diamonds. 

Johnny Mad Dog follows a group of young rebels as they try to capture the President and take over the country. It also follows a young girl who attempts to escape her home and find safety with her little brother and father. This film reminded me a lot of the movie Blood Diamond; however, the issue I have with Johnny Mad Dog is that there was no plot and, from what I could find, no underlying message. With Blood Diamond, the message is clear: know where you buy your diamonds from. But with Johnny Mad Dog, all I could see was that it was telling the story of a small rebel group during the war. Perhaps there wasn't supposed to be a plot. Maybe the chaos of the movie was meant to symbolize the chaos of the war itself?

Despite having no plot, this movie did an amazing job at portraying what the civil war was like (or at least what I imagined it to be really like). It addressed the issue of child soldiers, rape, politics, and how conflicts like this can take place so easily without the world knowing. There is no holding back in the content of this film - it literally goes where no other film I've seen has gone before, which makes it both extremely hard to watch but also very important to see. I was the only one in the theater at my showing and I'm thankful because I was in tears within the first 5 minutes. Although it was a very raw and real film that might be difficult for the average person to sit through, I would still highly recommend seeing it if it plays in a theater near you because it is something the world needs to see and I commend the producers for making something as difficult and true to history as this.

On a side note: While I was waiting for my showing to begin, there was a group left over from the first showing, of what I assumed to be professors, talking about the movie. I was sitting towards the back of the theater, listening to what they had to say about what they thought they knew about West Africa...and I had to laugh in my head at some of the things they said because otherwise, I think I would've cried. After reviewing the movie, they decided to discuss post-conflict Liberia - Liberia today. One man in the group brought up the topic of the new President and said something along the lines of "Well the new President isn't much better than previous ones. What is his name...he has a nickname...it's something like 'Too Good Johnson' or 'Good Luck Johnson'. That to me is fishy right there. He's got an agenda I think. Anyways, he took over from a coup while the former President was out of the country..."

Hold on a minute! The current President of Liberia is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; and last time I checked, she had peacefully and democratically won the 2005 election! She has no such nickname as 'Too Good ____' or anything of that nature. Furthermore, she is considered the best President the country has ever had and is doing a great job at rebuilding the nation and addressing the issue of violence against women. She is truly turning Liberia in to a country that other African nations should emulate. So excuse me sir, but before you spread rumors that aren't true about great leaders, make sure you do your research! There are plenty of other world leaders you could pick apart (i.e Bashir). 

Perhaps he was referring to Goodluck Jonathan, the acting President of Nigeria now. From what I can tell, Goodluck is his real first name, not a nickname that is meant to allude to an underlying agenda. He became acting President after the former President of Nigeria, Umaru Yar'Adua, left the country to recieve medical treatment. Jonathan took over as acting President to carry out state affairs, and upon Yar'Adua's death, he was sworn in as President of Nigeria until the next election. Although his Presidency is disputed and the constitutionality of it was/is debatable, he did not wage war and assassinate the former President in a bloody coup. 

The group went on to discuss how Liberia was colonized (along with the rest of West Africa) by the Belgians during the Scramble for Africa. Ironically, Liberia was the only West African nation to retain its independence during the colonization of Africa. Furthermore, Sierra Leone was colonized by the British, not the Belgians. He cited the brutality the Belgians used during colonization as a reason for why West Africa is so unstable. 

I tried to be amused by the misinformation that this group had instead of being angered. Hopefully this film will prompt them to do further research on the topic so that they can become truly knowledgeable.   It was interesting for me to compare my experiences in Sierra Leone to what this group's idea of what West Africa is like. As I watched this film, I couldn't help but to be amazed at how far Liberia (and Sierra Leone) have come in the past 10 years. Although much growth is still needed, I applaud West Africa on the progress they have made so far.

Again, I would highly recommend this film if you've got the stomach to see what the real civil war in West Africa was like. 

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