Mugabe and the White African (2010)
9/10 Ethnic Cleansings
Infuriating in the best way a documentary can hope to be.
Mugabe and the White African is a documentary about Michael Campbell and his son-in-law Ben Freeth who fight to keep their family-owned farm along with the 500 Zimbabweans who live and work there after the country’s President, Robert Mugabe, issues a law forcing White African farm owners to give up their land to the Black African population.
Now, when I first heard about this movie, let’s just say it didn’t exactly shoot its way to the top of my list right behind Inception. Maybe it’s because I’m American and I’m more prone to hear news about how Mel Gibson was whupping his ex-wife’s ass than I am to being enlightened about the plight and corruption in Africa, but the point I’m trying to make is that even though the title and synopsis might not be selling it, screw what you think you know, this thing is going to rattle your world. This is one of those movies that wakes you the hell up, makes you want to set your homepage to the “World” section of the New York Times and makes you kick yourself for feeling so out of the loop.
Then again, directors Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson had to more or less sneak this movie out of the country because they could have been arrested for filming inside Zimbabwe, so it doesn’t look like a whole lot of info on the matter is getting stateside to begin with. But don’t mistake this as an attempt to garner your sympathy or reach into your wallet, this is David and Goliath, it’s good and evil in its most extreme and unfortunate forms, it’s a story about standing up for what’s right even when everything that’s wrong holds all the cards and doesn’t play by the rules.
The evil in this case comes in the form of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, a cowardly tyrant if there ever was one and an individual I didn’t know existed before today, very much in the same way I didn’t know about Idi Amin before I saw The Last King of Scotland. Needless to say, won’t be forgetting his name anytime soon. Mugabe is one of these people that I can’t believe actually exists in a post-Holocaust world, a guy with a Hitler mustache and a Hitler mindset who publicly prides himself on rigging the elections he wins and declares to all those who follow him willfully or otherwise, “…let me be Hitler.” Sounds like somebody wants to start a fan club, and what’s even stranger is everyone else lining up for their “Members Only” jackets. And at the forefront of his fascist behavior is the very thing affecting our two protagonists: Mugabe’s decree to take away every last inch of farmland from White African owners (but not Black African owners) because you cannot be White and be African, because Zimbabwe belongs to Black Zimbabweans, and, in a nutshell, because he said so.
Man, I don’t think I’ve ever compared anyone to Hitler before, because it’s usually never a good idea to measure in extremes under any circumstances, but even though he isn’t putting on a display of mass genocide, something is very, very warped, and horrifyingly familiar about the way a mind like Mugabe’s operates. You know when your History teachers used to talk about “history repeating itself”? Yeah, they were onto something.
And up against the ropes are Michael Campbell (who must be in his 60s at least) and his step-son Ben Freeth who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Freddie Mercury, which is neat, I guess. These are the kinds of people you want your kids to be; actually, they’re the kind of people we all strive to be and the world should really start taking notes ’cause I’ve already worn out my good hand from doing so. To say that they and their story is at the same time inspirational to the point of cheering in a room full of strangers and heartbreaking to the point of tears is an understatement that I really can’t do any justice with simple words, and even though you’ve probably never heard of them before, you will never forget them and you will be rooting for them the second you meet them.
It’s hard to say what makes this movie so compelling outside of how damn good these two men are, but it will make your blood boil that much more when injustice and blind ignorance continually rear their ugly effing heads to people who have done absolutely nothing but tried to help others. In the words of Campbell’s lawyer after viewing pictures of them after a brutal “intimidation” beating, “I don’t understand how people can do this to other people.” This is drama you can’t script, drama you can hardly fathom and drama that deserves to be seen.
Mugabe and the White African is a crushing, surprisingly intense and brave movie about brave men standing up for basic human rights that no person, country or entity should ever be allowed to strip someone of. Folks, it’s not always easy to do the right thing and hold to your convictions, and I can only imagine how near-impossible that must be when it’s at the cost of having your home, family and livelihood victimized without any legal repercussions, but it can be done, it is done and it is a truly astonishing thing to witness. Just as this movie is a testament to the evil that lies in men, so is it one of the most affecting displays of inherent goodness that turns the other cheek and never gives up, and that is something we could all afford to be reminded of.
Now will someone please vote that douchebag out of office already?