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).

calling all scriptwriters for the #SheCranes movie – For God and My Country

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of
In 1993 the movie “Cool Runnings” tickled our sides and our imaginations, those of us in settings similar to the Jamaicans in that movie. The plot had a village of rural Jamaicans (aren’t they all?) sending a team of bobsledders to take part in the Winter Olympics.
It was unbelievable but gave us hope that ordinary, unlikely people were capable of doing anything if they had the determination and focus for it.
The Jamaicans didn’t even have snow or ice cold conditions to help them train, but they persevered enough to dispatch a team to the Winter Games.
Watching the movie, we focused less on the cold, wintry location of the games (I can’t even recall what country hosted the event) but saw a lot of Jamaica’s sunny climes, warm, clean sandy beaches, fun and lively atmosphere and those musically charged, highly entertaining people.
Whereas the film itself earned its backers more than US$150million (back then), it earned Jamaica even ten times that in tourism dollars because of what we saw about the country and the Jamaicans.
These thoughts were running cooly through my mind as I watched the Jamaican netball team extinguish our hopes of the She Cranes bringing home the Netball World Cup this year.
Those thoughts made me realise that even if those heroines haven’t brought back that trophy, they have given us a massive opportunity we shouldn’t let go begging the way we let them go begging in order to honour us with their sweat, talent and positive energy.
We should make a movie about the She Cranes.
This movie would tell the world an inspirational story about the triumph of hard work and perseverance – by this small group of young, energetic, patriotic, hope-filled ladies and their backers fighting all odds to get to Australia for the World Cup.
The movie would portray the girls in their home setting as they go around training for the games with a backdrop of fantastic scenery that will involve waterfalls, national parks, bird sanctuaries, and beautiful forests.
In between training sessions the movies will depict the girls following an organic diet of fresh food from bountiful gardens full of well-arranged crops, and prepared by jolly chefs whipping up different types of Rolex and buxom cooks using things like endaggala to make delicacies like oluwombo.
The banter within the movie, meanwhile, will be full of the positive vibes that most Ugandans represent in their day to day lives – the humour, the hope, the resilience that the She Cranes themselves showed throughout their journey to the World Cup.
And all throughout, the movie script writer will ensure that the icons that represent Uganda are made visible all through so that wherever they are seen thereafter they sell the country to tourists and investors.
On that note, actually, stop for a minute and clap your hands for that Ugandan chap who was wearing the Uganda Cranes t-shirt during the Uganda-Jamaica nailbiter and got featured widely all across Africa (and the world) on TV.
THAT is how to advertise a brand!
Every ten minutes of the She Cranes movie should, for instance, have a shot of the Uganda Cranes and She Cranes t-shirts – which will make our icons even more recognisable and loved wherever we go.
And like the She Cranes, the people wearing those t-shirts will always be engaged in activities that depict hard work – not hanging around in bars ‘living it up’.
Like the She Cranes, all the Ugandans in that movie will be shown heroically solving problems using the meagre resources available to them. Like the She Cranes, all the Ugandans in that movie will show great amounts of strength and resilience, such that our children – boys and girls alike – will all take up netball as their sport of choice!
That movie, ladies and gentlemen, can change very many things for Uganda here and abroad. The script writers can do such a good job at it that we could get the top 100 tax payers in Uganda to donate netball pitches and equipment to schools in every district, and build a stronger supply of players for the She Cranes.
If individuals like Pamela Ankunda (she of National ID fame) could do so much leg work raising interest and funds for this team to go to the World Cup, imagine what the rest of us – individuals, families and companies alike – can achieve?
But we won’t get that message through articles like these or from a barrage of SMS messages – even though that certainly does help; in fact, you must go and read this blog post by Joseph Owino making even more hefty suggestions.
Let’s get a good team of movie makers to make a movie that will draw everybody into Uganda, rallying around the superb work of the She Cranes.
I even have a title suggestion already: ‘For God and My Country’!

approach the global media narrative on your African country with caution

I AM writing this in a bit of an angry state, after more than thirty hours of flight time and one hour’s taxi time travel, because once again I have been starkly shown the difference between the narrative our imaginations see in the world of media and entertainment, and the reality on the ground in this world of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
During the lengthy flight time, quite at random, two movies stood out on my mind – the first was titled, “Hector and the Search For Happiness” and took us through the whimsical, fictional journey of the British psychiatrist Hector seeking for the meaning of happiness on an impulsive journey through Asia, Africa and North America.
Leaving, according to the movie, a very orderly and organised life in the centre of Britain, the hero Hector goes to Asia which is depicted as full of colour, whimsical and modernistic night-time fun, svelte and well-dressed men and women, tasty food and drink both on the streets and in expensive hotels, and simple but good living.
And of course, he goes through a Buddhist monastery and meets a white-haired mysterious and wise old monk with a satellite dish and worldly views on top of a snow-capped mountain where the sun shines bright and colourful flags somehow show up.
When leaving Asia, however, the ‘pretty’, well-dressed female Chinese staff at the airport verbally prepare Hector for his ongoing flight to ‘Africa’ by detailing the different levels of flight comfort from a level where the hand is held up high in the air (First Class) to a level where the hand is held near the floor and her expression causes her eyes to disappear in her face (even I was licked by this level).
Indeed, in the next shot, Hector is in an aeroplane that can only exist in the minds of a movie designer whose understanding of science is as warped as his knowledge of reality.
The aeroplane to Africa is practically held together by cellotape and occupied by livestock-cradling Africans, except for the lady Hector is Hector in Africaseated next to, who is well-spoken and has even read a book which she readily donates to Hector – a refreshing departure from the usual narrative.
But then he gets to Africa and the narrative is back so all we see is pestilence, dust, thuggery and warlordism and crime, interspersed with dancing ululating African families in shanty towns and villages.
Hector gets carjacked and abducted by rough, ugly, dirty criminals but is saved because he had earlier met, in the same ‘Africa’, a suave European criminal whose home, in the very same ‘Africa’ is a well-lined mansion tastefully decorated!
After he ‘escapes’ from Africa, he goes to Los Angeles in the United States where, I swear, he only meets white people in clean settings (even the beach does not raise any sandy dust on-screen) and generally spends time only in university theatres and medical labs.
By co-incidence, the next movie I caught was Will Smith’s “Focus”, because of a scene I spotted as my neighbour was watching it.
In this movie, Will Smith is a thief, but the glorified type of thief who, again, is suave and debonair and touted as clever in the way he runs his pickpocketing gangs of nice-looking Americans, including his newest recruit – a ‘beautiful’ white lady.
The scene that caught my attention was a shot labelled ‘Buenos Aires’, where my flight was heading to.
In the movie Buenos Aires we see Formula One tracks and cars, beautiful houses, cafes and mansions, filled with glamorous people hosting rich parties,  and bright, shiny supercars whizzing about.Scene From Focus
But the reality was very different from the minutes the airport doors opened up to me, and I was amused to see that the taxi service that picked me up had had their car radio stolen!
And as we drove through the city to my very nice hotel, I could clearly see the signs of this ‘emerging market’, being very, very different from what the movie label made it out to be.
The number of garbage bags standing on the roadside just metres 20150625_114226from the doorway to the Sheraton Buenos Aires, next to cracked pavements and streams of questionable looking fluids reminded me starkly of some spots I have seen in Hector’s Africa.
There were spots I drove through in Buenos Aires that revealed the type of Argentinian you never see when you are watching movies or following the news. The probability of spotting a poor, dirty, struggling Argentinian is extremely high on most streets in their capital city, but quite rare in the media – more rare than the equivalent from any African nation.
Overall, the experience reminded me once again how we must approach global media and entertainment with caution – especially those of us from these nations in Africa…the real Africa, not Hector’s idea of it.