Signal Boost: Colonial Film

Everyone from a country formerly colonized by Britain should go and watch the documentaries available at colonialfilm.org.uk to catch a glimpse of how things were back in the day. I am not entirely sure but the more I discuss with folks, and read comments on forums, the more it seems like there are a lot of folks who have the wrong idea about what colonialism and imperialism mean.

Perhaps by watching what is available in the archives of colonialfilm.org.uk and really paying attention to the kind of words and themes used in the documentaries, folks will have a clearer understanding on colonialism.

So far I’ve watched African Nurse (1948) where missionaries were training nurses as a tool for evangelism in South-Eastern Nigeria. Springtime in an English village (1944) shows a young African girl crowned as ‘May Queen’ in an English village to prove to African countries that ‘we British were not a dreadful race of people’…yes of course, after violently colonizing brown bodies and minds…as far as I’m concerned the whole coronation and everything could have been staged but at least the girl looks happy.

I enjoyed watching Giant in the Sun (1959), a study of Northern Nigerian before it achieved self-government. I actually liked this one, despite the annoying soundtrack that played with the market scene I believe I saw suya being made in that video! Also fura da nono. They even showed Zaria, my birthplace. I also found the connection between the durbar and polo interesting. I also noticed this, in 1959 they were reporting that Northern Nigeria is religiously tolerant and that there are many Christians and churches there. Now Western media is saying almost the opposite. I used to laugh when I met Nigerians from the ‘South’ who were shocked to learn that there are Christians indigenous to the ‘North’, now it is just annoying in a ‘how can someone be so ignorant?’ way.

Other fascinating documentaries I watched included, Nigeria’s first women police, Three Roads to Tomorrow (1961), shot in the University of Ibadan, Caribbean (1951), Castles and fisher folk (1933) from Ghana (I loved the clips of the children playing in the ocean, especially the laughing girl except the people who made the documentary probably did not see these children as human beings).

More On The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender will soon be released in America soon and it seems my prayers have already been answered.

I am extremely glad that the people who have seen this movie seem not to be impressed. I also hope the movie doesn’t do well at the box office (though one of my primary concerns is that it could go on to do well in the international box office. I mean I’ve tried to explain to some of my friends here why the movie is racist but they just refused to listen. Goodness talking with them was like talking to a brick wall I just kept quiet after a while).

Anyway I just wanted to point out how The Last Airbender movie is not only racist but is also sexist. One of the reasons I adored the cartoon series was because of Katara. Katara is a brown-skinned girl with lots of agency. She is a powerful Waterbender, she is brave, she challenges customs…basically her character is so full of girl-power. However (as can be expected) all this is not shown in the movie. There is a breakdown of scenes in the original cartoon that were not depicted, altered or absent in the movie at Racebending.com. While reading the list what stood out to me was the way in which Katara was really undermined and pushed to the side in the movie. For example;

ORIGINAL:
Katara inadvertently frees Aang from the ice as she yells at her brother. Her anger manifests when she waterbends, breaking the iceberg surrounding the frozen Aang. After the ice is cracked open, Aang and Appa awaken. They ride back to the tribe on Appa’s back, with Appa swimming.

FILM:
Sokka notices that the ice beneath them is glowing. The sphere rises up, cracking open the ice surface. He yells “Katara! Don’t touch that sphere!” Katara cracks open the sphere and there is an explosion of light. The camera reveals a crater, where Aang and Appa lie unconscious. Katara and Sokka argue, then decide to bring them back to the village.

So rather than portray Katara’s anger as the main catalyst that the Avatar is released from his nesting state, everything is left to chance and pure luck. In the original you get the sense that if Katara had not being angry and if she were not a Waterbender, Aang would have remained unconscious forever yet in the movie all she had to was crack the sphere…

Here’s another example that really upset me (emphasis mine).

ORIGINAL:
Haru, a young Earthbending boy, uses his bending to protect an innocent. He’s captured and sent to a metal coal processing camp, with other Earthbenders. Their powers are vastly limited by their metal surroundings. Katara allows herself to be captured and is taken to the camp. She shows the Earthbenders that they can fight – and (with the help of Aang and Sokka) arranges for a huge supply of coal for the prisoners to use as they win their freedom.

FILM:
A nameless Earthbending boy hides behind Aang, Katara, and Sokka. Fire Nation soldiers arrive and accuse the boy of being a bender who “bended pebbles at their heads.” They are all captured when it is discovered that Katara is also a Waterbender.

They are taken to an internment village. Aang rallies the captured Earthbenders, telling them that they are surrounded by earth and can fight back. He begins to fight the handful of Firebender soldiers guarding the village. Katara and Sokka join. Finally, the Earthbenders intervene, and together are able to defeat the Firebender guards.

Why is it that in the movie it is Aang that gets to rally the captured Earthbenders while presumably Katara just sits back and only joins in the action after Aang has done all the hard work? In the cartoon both Aang and Katara (and Sokka as well) get their chances to shine on their own. There are other examples of how the movie fails to give Katara the power she has in the cartoon as a Waterbender. In the cartoon she is able to defeat Zuko once but in the movie she never gains the upper hand. This does not only happen to Katara as the Kyoshi warriors, a group of all-female warriors that appears in the original cartoon series were completely erased from the movie. I’ve noticed this disturbing trend in movies that are based on original works in which female characters who played important active roles in original works are reduced to two-dimensional beings in movie adaptations. All I have to say is; ‘Whyyyyy?!’

In conclusion, I urge anyone who reads my blog to boycott The Last Airbender no matter which part of the world you are in. Do not waste your money supporting a movie that is all kinds of FAIL rather why not watch the cartoon series instead?