Watching a TV Commercial Takes Me Back to Africa

Over the last week or so, I’ve been watching the Major League Baseball Playoff Games. At least once during every broadcast, there’s been a commercial from Boeing. The title of this commercial is Some Come Here.

This is a 33 second spot. Have a look and a listen:

It is an interesting commercial, and amazingly – the first time I saw it, it didn’t impact me all that much. But the second time, that music fired up some neurons in the part of my brain that contains memories.

Rather than simply watching and listening, click the above link again, this time try to do your best to concentrate on the music and not so much on the visuals or the narration.

After the second viewing, I was sure I had heard this music before, and not from any previous Boeing commercial. Now before I get any further along, it should be said that including popular music in TV ads is not something to become rapturous about, nor is it any thing that began just recently.

But the thing of it was, that the music that I recalled, I hadn’t heard it since late December 2006. The film that contained this music opened on December 8th, 2006, and I saw the film in late December of that year at a theater in North Central Connecticut. I had visited my family for the year-end holidays.

Rather than drag this out for much longer than I should, the film is Blood Diamond. Directed and produced by Edward Zwick, written by Charles Levitt, with music by James Newton Howard, Blood Diamond is the story of the crossing of paths by a Zimbabwean adventurer, smuggler, fortune hunter and mercenary called Danny Archer, who is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, then a Sierra Leone fisherman from the Mende tribe, Solomon Vandy, who is played by Djimon Hounsou, and lastly, an American freelance journalist who preferred hitting a keyboard while hunkered down in a conflict zone like Serbia or West Africa rather than sitting in relative safety behind a desk in New York or elsewhere. This character was called Maddy Bowen, and she is played by Jennifer Connelly.

It is 1999, and Sierra Leone is definitely a conflict zone. Civil War, chaos, and the upheaval of millions of lives only scratches the surface. This is a place that if you thought about it, and could do so, you’d choose to be elsewhere. But Danny, Solomon, and Maddy either wanted to be there, or had to be there, if not by choice, then by circumstances.

Solomon wanted to find his family. He had been captured by the R.U.F. and forced to work as a slave laborer in the hunt for diamonds. His family had fled just ahead of his capture, and he had no idea of where they were or what had become of them

Danny Archer, though born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) had enlisted and fought in the South African Army, and more recently he had been working as a diamond smuggler. The diamonds he carried out of Sierra Leone would travel from West Africa to Antwerp, to India, and then on to a large multinational jewelry concern based in London before ending up on the fingers of brides in Europe and North America.

Basically the story, at its essence comes down to this series of quotes:

[first title card]
Title card: Sierra Leone, 1999
Title card: Civil war rages for control of the diamond fields.
Title card: Thousands have died and millions have become refugees.
Title card: None of whom has ever seen a diamond.

Danny Archer: T.I.A. This is Africa.

Danny Archer: Let me tell you something. You sell blood diamonds too.
Maddy Bowen: Really?
Danny Archer: Yeah.
Maddy Bowen: Tell me, how is that?
Danny Archer: Who do you think buys the stones that I bring out? Dreamy American girls who all want a storybook wedding and a big, shiny rock like the ones in the advertisements of your politically correct magazines. So, please, don’t come here and make judgments on me, all right?

Danny Archer: You’re a reporter, eh? Well piss off!

Solomon Vandy: I understand White people want our diamonds, yes. But how can my own people do this to each other?

Maddy Bowen: Three out of five ex-boyfriends polled think I need to be in a constant state of crisis. Maybe I just give a shit.

Danny Archer: You come here with your laptop computers, your malaria medicine and your little bottles of hand sanitizer and think you can change the outcome, huh?

Solomon Vandy: [out of breath] He is my son. I am his father. I must go find him. Go ahead, shoot me if you want, but I will go find him.

Maddy Bowen: You lost both your parents.
Danny Archer: That’s a polite way of putting it, ja. Mum was raped and shot and uh… Dad was decapitated and hung from a hook in the barn. I was nine… boo-hoo right?

Maddy Bowen: The people back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone else their hand.

Danny Archer: That diamond is my ticket out of this God forsaken continent.

This film was forceful and dynamic, and definitely involving. My memory tells me that I was very impressed upon seeing this in December of 2006 somewhere East of Hartford, basically not far from Storrs, CT.

But after watching this film again, prior to this review, I felt a bit differently. Yes it had terrific action, spectacular cinematography, and a splendid cast who both looked good and performed admirably. But Jennifer, Leonardo, and Djimon were all locked into trite and stereotypical character portrayals. Connelly’s Maddie said all the right things reminding us about children with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes. Yet there she was, snapping pictures of refugees locked and fenced in by the 100’s of thousands with the hopes of using her pictures to help sell her article.

DiCaprio’s Archer was  both heroic and detestable at once. He was good with guns, and had enough macho fierceness to him that made him a man’s man, and a guy you might want to emulate. But his purpose was, as he put it – to find a way out of this god-forsaken continent. When he was challenged by Maddy who said that he, Archer, was using Solomon – Archer didn’t deny it. Instead he told Maddy – And you’re using me – basically stating that this was how it was, and how it would always be in Africa.

Hounsou’s Soloman Vandy was the noble father and husband. His world and family had been snatched from him, and he was driven to find them again. He was not a weak character, and though he had the best intentions, he came off as a third fiddle to Connelly and DiCaprio.

Basically, I am saying that this was a film that earned five Academy Award nominations. You knew from the time of its release in December that it was specifically positioned to join the Oscars fray. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it was too predictable. There were no surprises whatsoever. for any of us by the time the film ended. This does not, in my opinion, knock the film out of consideration as being exemplary, moving, involving, and entertaining. It just can’t be considered at the very pinnacle of film making.

And speaking of endings – have a look at Archer near the end of the film:

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4 thoughts on “Watching a TV Commercial Takes Me Back to Africa

    • Took me a few times of seeing the commercial over a few days. Even then I wasn’t sure. But I have the DVD, and I soon found my memory had proved correct. Then again, as you listen to that music with the conflict diamond story as a backdrop – it does make an impact.

  1. I don’t recall seeing this film at a theater but I didn’t like it very much wherever I saw it. And it proved forgettable until I read this post. If you”re nostalgic, I suggest you take another look at Africa via the new release “Beasts of No Nation,” which looks similarly directed toward multiple Academy Award nominations. Unfortunately, most major theater chains have boycotted this pioneering Netflix same day release, but you can stream it on Netflix starting today. Directed by Cary Fukanaga, who piloted Season One of True Detective, the film stars Idris Elba, who played Luther the BBC detective par excellence. Based on the interview Fukanaga did with Charlie Rose, this looks like a powerful, potentially unforgettable film.

    • Way ahead of you – I began watching this film this morning via Netflix streaming.
      There are at least a coupe of potential problems – watching child soldiers will not make anyone comfortable.
      And from what I’ve seen so far. the story maybe to potent for casual watching.

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