focus on the elephant, not the birds


dsc_2871-1TOO much has been said on social media platforms in response to the one negative “review” (quote marks very deliberate) about the uplifting movie ‘Queen of Katwe‘.
Most of the vitriol and anger poured onto the unfortunate author of the negative review was based on his confession that he only watched 20 minutes of the movie before forming his opinion.
The fact that his twenty minutes was slamming down a two-hour movie that took more than two years to script and produce should have made us all pull our punches a little bit, even before paying attention to his credentials as a film critic.
I didn’t know, when I met him at the entrance of the movie theatre that night, that the reviewer had gone through so much anguish inside there, and greeted him brightly as he took photographs of the area and those of us hanging about.
By that time my focus wasn’t on going in to watch the movie or take photographs with the stars both Ugandan and foreign. There was finally rumbling in some quarters of Uganda, with people indignantly decrying the fact that a large part of ‘Queen Of Katwe’ was shot in another country. The fact that this rumbling was coming two years too late was as amusing as an intellectual addressing mere minutes of a movie and not even once ever mentioning the three-year old book on which the movie was based.
And as soon as the negative “review” landed I knew there was going to be a digression into the non-essential – against that Ugandan proverb that warns the hunter in pursuit of an elephant to avoid stopping on the way to throw stones at birds.
Let’s focus on the elephant instead: The ‘Queen Of Katwe’ has set a major stone rolling for Uganda and we must keep it going. First, we should focus on the Ugandan giants who got that stone rolling, rather than those that stick toes out in its path. Those giants are Robert Katende, Phionah Mutesi, Tendo Nagenda and Mira Nair.
Phionah Mutesi embodies the true spirit of a good Ugandan, fighting all odds to rise up and excel in her chosen field. Robert Katende is a superb Ugandan, selflessly committing all his energy to helping vulnerable others overcome struggle and realise their potential, and gives Phionah reason to be such a big global story. Tendo Nagenda is a patriotic Ugandan, moving mountains to get a moving Ugandan story told to the rest of the world by Ugandans in Uganda representing Phionah, Robert and many of us. Mira Nair is an enterprising, energetic Ugandan (yes – Ugandan!) who executes the emotional stories of all these Ugandans with such cinematic excellence that even the most negative people acknowledge the brilliance there.
Even a month from now we probably won’t be talking about Phionah, Robert, Tendo or Mira on the mainstream pages of our newspapers, and by the time the roll of Medals is being read out in Kololo next year their names might not be on it – in spite of the tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars worth of positive publicity Uganda will have raked in from ‘Queen of Katwe’.
I was quite concerned when I saw more officials of other countries trying to hobnob with the film people from Hollywood, and even alarmed when some of them let slip their plans to benefit from our ‘Queen of Katwe’. Luckily for Uganda, we have a very responsive Prime Minister, who didn’t hesitate to swing over to spend a couple of hours with the industry people to seriously discuss what else Uganda can do – both government and the private sector – to get more movies filmed here within our borders.
Within a matter of hours the good Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda had focussed the discussion and assigned a team to put together plans that would focus the various parts of the government so that our national efforts are effective at making it easier for both local and foreign film producers to make use of our amazing range of scenery for location shoots, our vast amount of acting and other performing arts talent, and to develop our infrastructure so that the Disney’s of this world choose us first every single time.
“The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds,” reads that Ugandan proverb. Focus on the elephant, all. The birds will always flitter off whether you throw stones at them or not, but every step you lose in your pursuit of the elephant lets it get further and further away; elephants move very, very fast but once you’ve caught one very many people will eat for many, many days (*Ignore the poaching allusion).
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