A couple of years ago, the Beninoise actor Djimon Hounsou collaborated with Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina to put the latter’s then provocative and now legendary essay “How to write about Africa” (which first appeared in Granta Magazine) on Youtube. In the essay, Binyavanga, who has since revisited the original essay, lampooned Western journalism and Hollywood’s depiction of Africa and Africans. (I can’t remember where I recently read Binyavanga saying that the American makers of the video changed the title to “How not to write about Africa” since Americans would not get irony and sarcasm, also insisting that Hounsou recite the text on camera to an “innocent” white child.) That video has resurfaced on some sites in the last month, and has been circulated by critics of the explosive and viral “Kony 2012” video. But back to Hounsou: I’ve always wondered why Hounsou’s acting choices have not been consistent with Binyavanga’s critique.

Most famously, Hounsou starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Blood Diamond’ (2006), described by The New York Times as “a foolish thriller” and as “Rambo for liberals” by the Apollo Guide. The film is marketed as being about the civil war and diamond mining in Sierra Leone, but was really about the redemption of a white Rhodesian played by DiCaprio. Now comes the news that Hounsou will co-star with Orlando Bloom in what sounds like a Lethal Weapon buddy cop movie set in Cape Town. The film comes with the title ‘Zulu’. I can see some of you already sniggering. Bloom and Hounsou play cops who have to hunt down the killer of the daughter of a member of the 1995 rugby World Cup winning team. Yes, snigger again.

The film is based on a novel by French writer Caryl Férey. It won a prize in France. The film’s director will be another Frenchman Jerome Salle. One thing from the various descriptions of the novel and the film are the ridiculous names of the main characters which do not ring true. Hounsou’s character is named “Ali Neuman”. Part of Neuman’s backstory is that he survived an attack by Inkatha, a movement which conducted a proxy war on behalf of the Apartheid government against black South Africans in the early 1990s. In the suburbs? Neuman now has to work with Bloom’s character, “Brian Epkeen,” to solve the murder of the rugby champion’s daughter. Epkeen is described as “a free-wheeling white officer whose family was originally involved in the establishment of apartheid but who works well with Neuman.” South Africa is described as “… a society struggling toward reconciliation.” Yeh. In a now infamous interview about the novel Férey said some dumb things, so I am not sure what to expect from the film.

Anyway, here’s the description from the film’s IMDB site:

As a child, Ali Neuman narrowly escaped being murdered by Inkhata, a militant political party at war with Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. Only he and his mother survived the carnage of those years. But as with many survivors, the psychological scars remain. Today, Ali is chief of the homicide branch of the South African police in Cape Town. One of his staff is Brian Epkeen, a free-wheeling white officer whose family was originally involved in the establishment of apartheid but who works well with Neuman. Together they have to deal with crime that inevitably exists in sprawling areas of un -and under- employed people, crime exacerbated by gangs, both local and from other parts of Africa. Their job gets even more difficult when the corpses of two young women are found. A new evil has been introduced in the city and a new drug has been introduced to its residents, including both murder victims. At the chaotic crossroads where brutality and modernization collide, the echoes of apartheid still resound in the shadows of a society struggling toward reconciliation.

Further Reading

Mobilizing in disorder

Post the looting and failed insurrection, what would it mean for the South African left to undertake a populist political strategy? And should it look to South America for inspiration? A long read.