Movie Review: Mugabe And The White African

Movie Review: Mugabe And The White African

Summary: A documentary on Zimbabwe's Land Reform Program (the transfer of land from Whites to Blacks) under the rule of President Robert Mugabe, which affected 4,000 White farmers who were violently forced to give up their land.

Published July 21, 2010

Summary : A documentary on Zimbabwe's Land Reform Program (the transfer of land from Whites to Blacks) under the rule of President Robert Mugabe , which affected 4,000 White farmers who were violently forced to give up their land. One of the farmers, Mike Campbell , refused to hand over his land to the Zimbabwe government. This documentary follows the complex and sad story of his resilient family.

Review : On the surface, Mugabe And The White African is a tale of a White man experiencing racism at the hands of a racist, Black dictator.  Shot in a style similar to that of a gritty horror flick, British filmmakers Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson go undercover to get the full story of Mike Campbell and his family. Campbell bought his Zimbabwe land in 1980 and due to another version of the Land Reform Act (there have been several in Zimbabwe), his farm is going to a Black Zimbabwean, which means into the hands of President Robert Mugabe.

Campbell treks to the international tribunal in Namibia, arguing that the eviction of their land is blatant racial discrimination. They are harassed, violently attacked and the ending is horrific. There is no justice, and it seems there never will be.

Mugabe And The White African emotionally and effectively tells the story of the White farmer. Clearly, what they experience is wrong on every level, but from a documentary perspective, the film is extremely one-sided. Despite a hand-held rant from a minister, the flick fails to properly or remotely explain the sordid history of colonization in Zimbabwe.

Without detailing the entire history of Zimbabwe, in short, the land was colonized and stolen from native Zimbabweans back in the late 1800s. When I say stolen, I don't mean that delicately -- the land was robbed through war, violence and bloodshed. Under colonization, a corrupt government seized the land and sold it to rich Whites who had the money and resources to buy it (this dates back to the 1930s). At one point, White Zimbabweans owned 70 percent of the country even though they accounted for only 1 percent of the population.

Moral and legal battles raged on for decades, eventually resulting in Black Zimbabweans demanding their land back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Plus, President Robert Mugabe fanned the flames of the poor, encouraging them to revolt. This resulted in bloodshed of Whites and Blacks. So, even though Mike Campbell and other White farmers legally bought it, what are the consequences of purchasing land in the "open market" brought on by a racist and capitalist history?

Not highlighting the history of Zimbabwe is a huge error for a documentary that at times depicts the Black Zimbabweans as emotionless and racist savages with no intellect. A five-minute segment with one expert on Zimbabwean history would've greatly helped balance the film and this important story.

That said, the way in which President Mugabe insists on snatching the land from the Whites is deplorable and heart-breaking. Furthermore, the land will never be handed over to the poor majority; it will go under Mugabe's control and be given to whomever he pleases. In the end, the poor people will still lose.

Mugabe And The White African is less a story about a White farmer experiencing racism in Africa and more a story about how the pain of colonization lasts for generations.  It's a fearless film that I strongly recommend, but you will need to do your own research to be fully informed.

Mugabe And The White African opens in New York City on Friday, July 23.

Written by Clay Cane

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