|Lee Isaac Chung|
My father told me this when I was ten — it is a small footnote in our family history but one that I revisit often. How can storytelling bring a humble woman the respect of an entire village? Then, I remember that even scripture is an epic narrative.
Edison’s Kinetoscope featured vaudeville performers and fighting animals while the Lumiere’s captured everyday life; both foreshadowed a division between the US and Europe that remains today — cinema as spectacle and cinema as art.
One could argue that cinema has become the most powerful form of storytelling in the world. Anti-Western sentiment, especially the type directed against Hollywood, does not deny this contention; it disagrees with the stories.
They are crudely and quickly shot with over two thousand new titles a year to keep up with local demand for African films. Western audiences might cringe at the exaggerated acting and stories of HIV and witchcraft, but each of the noisy videos proclaims, “we wish to speak too.”
It reaches Rwanda, where, after the tragic Rwandan genocide of 1994, several personal accounts recall that genocidaires liked to mimic Rambo films when slaughtering others, a chilling detail for moviegoers.
In a great irony, Western penitence has invaded Rwanda several times to recreate the genocide for film crews that resemble, at first glance, a military occupation. Its height is reached in HOTEL RWANDA, in which American actors fake African accents in a story that many Rwandans dismiss as overly exaggerated to sell tickets. Its target audience is the West, and as the spectacle — with its prestige, Oscars, and box office data — passes from our minds to obscurity, Rwanda is left with few resources to share its own recollection of the tragedy, to engage in the art of memory.
(My work in Rwanda is:
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