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Luso Mnthali

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When Movie Stars Were Super Heroes

Posted: 02/17/10 11:10 AM ET

When I was young I thought Wonder Woman was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. I didn't know she was a real person who was just an actor, and who was just human, like me. I didn't even know her name. Even when the credits rolled, you could never tell me that the woman on the screen was someone called Lynda Carter. The eighties were a continuous re-run of shows from the seventies, and I used to get confused about the contemporaneity of American shows.

To me Wonder Woman was emancipated, pretty and powerful. She didn't need a man to achieve something, and she wore great clothes. Or so I thought at the age of eight or nine. And while I can't always recall her exact powers, I wanted to be Wonder Woman. It didn't matter that she was white, American, and much older, I just knew that she was a super hero and that super heroes saved the world, so I wanted to be her. Somewhere in that wish, was the wish to do good.

One could say those were the good old days, when movie stars just did their jobs. These days they want to be all things to all people. They not only want to act as Batman, they want to be Batman and save the world. Or, so it seems, the African part of the world. Don't get me wrong, I am not against people using their star power to attract millions of dollars to a good cause, especially in the so-called "forgotten" parts of the world like Haiti, Darfur or DR Congo. I just think these days the trip to the stars, for people who make movies or sing, includes a must-go and must-do stop over in "Eahfrucar" to do good or raise awareness. While I applaud those who go to these places I sometimes question why it is they do these things.

Even South Africa has been the beneficiary of a tap from the do-gooder's wand and magic touch. And, as most people here know, South Africa is Africa Lite. It is not Hardcore Africa, where the war, famine, poverty and disease have brought some nations tribulation beyond imagining, and stalled progress. There are many poor nations in Africa, but not all of them are at war. Nor are most people starving, dying of AIDS, or not taking care of their people, especially the women and children. But to hear tell of it from the Angelinas and Madonnas of the world and the Western media outlets, things are quickly going to hell in a beautifully woven African hand-basket. Yes, someone's going to throw peanuts at me and say, but that those things happen! There are problems! Yes, but not to the extent that they exist Western Media. Not all Africa is Hardcore Africa. Hardcore Africa isn't even that many countries. How many countries do you think actually have it all, the whole hellish quintuplet of war, famine, disease, poverty and bad leadership all at the same time? That's Hardcore Africa, and it is not that many countries. It is one too many countries, but it is not the entire continent. While I'm not saying life isn't hard for many Africans, there are some very good and excellent things happening on the continent but you won't hear about those things. Think about it. You're not being told those stories. Western media needs to get its story straight and report some good news for once!

I believe that the e pluribus unum'ing of the entire continent is damaging to the parts that are developing, and rising like a phoenix. Those parts need positive attention, and that attention will bring much-needed investment, development, infrastructure and education to them, and even more areas beyond. When you paint an entire continent only one way, you damage it. You're not being helpful, and you're actually doing the opposite.

The view I have of some of the places that have shaped my life is not one that most people in the world have of Africa. That they must actually pronounce and state the name of individual towns and cities and countries seems too hard. Perhaps they do not want to lessen the impact of their story. Or dilute their anecdotal evidence of mischief-making or disease, of poverty or war. So this entity is morphed into a single impenetrable mass they call Africa, even when they refer to a specific place on the map of Africa. Oprah does it, so why shouldn't you? Every time Ms. Winfrey, whom I hold in the highest regard, says, "You know, I have a school in Africa," I have to cringe. We know where the school is, roughly. It's in South Africa, in the north of the country. It's one of the many, many schools that are here and that work in this country. The education system in South Africa isn't as bad as it is in other parts of the world, or even in parts of this continent. It's actually quite good, but for at risk, very poor young girls, it has not worked. They have either not been able to go to school or have been stuck in the worst schools the country has to offer in some of the poorest and most under-funded places (sound familiar?) That is why Oprah's Academy for Girls is a great idea for South Africa. Yet her school continues to be in 'Eahrfruca?' Why can't she just say it's in South Africa? It's like she's trying to simplify something for an audience that's too wrapped up in their own lives to care whether it's Africa or South Africa. But we care. We care that you call a continent a country. Or vice versa. Why are people being told they're too stupid to get something so it's made easier for them? I bet you everyone in America knows where Kandahar is in the world. Say it enough times, and you know!

Yet Oprah isn't the only one giving dodgy geography lessons. A number of celebrities are doing this and geography isn't the only class they're not passing. People are picking causes just so they can look good. They're just jumping on the 'orphans in Africa' bandwagon. The movie Bruno is brilliant -- if there does exist an agency where famous people and 'stars' can just pick and choose a cause, then I know for sure that the end is nigh. As those blonde pneumatic twins in the movie said, "Dar-four, or Dar-five...or whatever..."

Honestly, I am glad that George Clooney and friends raised millions for Haiti. I welcome the angry gasps if I say that for him it's not just about Darfur, it's now about Dar-five. Maybe one day the Haiti consciousness will die down, and they'll move on to Dar-six and Dar-seven. Clooney and his friends are a quick fix, for the feckless leaders that people deal with every day, and for that part of themselves that wishes they could do something more, but are glad there's someone out there to do it for them. These are the super heroes of our day -- with their money, charm and attention-grabbing antics. The wattage from their smiles alone should be able to provide power to a small house in Zimbabwe, have a well dug in Uganda or build a school for girls in Malawi. Why they do not do their good quietly and away from the glare of the cameras I cannot tell you. Sometimes I want to say "Africa and Africans do not need you to speak for us, we can do that just fine for ourselves." Yet I still have to challenge those that continuously seek to lump us all into one mass.

Africa is a huge place, diverse, vibrant, dynamic, emerging and engaging. Yet that's not what the media ever attribute to us. They call all of us starving, dying of AIDS, war-ravaged and all the way through savage and corrupt. They call us Africa, all 53 of our separate and independent nations, and what one of us has or does, these powerful mouthpieces give to us all. In news broadcasts, they are too lazy to show the world where we are on the map, and when they do so, it is almost with a keen reluctance, or even a look of surprise on the presenters' faces.

If I were Wonder Woman, I would deflect the bullets. Because each time someone comes to do good in any part of Africa, it seems there are more bullets headed our way. The kinds of bullets I speak of are the continual ignorance about many parts of Africa. The continual dismissing of Africans as people who cannot speak for themselves, help themselves, feed themselves, or do for themselves. The continual position that Africans inhabit in the minds of Westerners and indeed much of the rest of the world, is one of being backward, primitive and holding out a begging bowl. To put us all in that position harms us, much more than it does us good. It creates a sort of fatigue amongst donor nations, and their citizens. It does not create awareness. What awareness is being created here? We are aware of it, and in each of our own ways, we're doing something about it. Not fast enough, as I can hear some of the Angelina Jolie Super Heroes of the world say. And that is fine too. Let them do some good, but please don't make it as if you are the only one in the world doing anything, and before you there was no one. We had super heroes before you, and we will continue to have them long after you're gone. The unsung heroes, the quiet defenders, those who speak truth to power -- those are the real heroes. Not the ones standing at countless podiums and giving a dozen interviews about themselves and their efforts. Do not silence us. We can speak for ourselves. We thank you for your efforts, small and major. But we can speak for ourselves, and we don't need to put on a Wonder Woman outfit to do so.

Some of the titles for do-gooding may sound like they're from outer space -- I see Captain Kirk and Co. at the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise looking at something headed towards them and Kirk gasps, "I think it may be a UN Messenger of Peace!" As much as I think charity work is a serious venture and mostly the well-intentioned do it, I just also happen to think that the cult of celebrity is ridiculous and hijacks the gains made by many unsung heroes. So this post is for them. It is also for those un-reported, under-acknowledged but beautiful, peaceful, prosperous places on the continent. For that is who we are as well.

 

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