Last night I went to see the new film “blood diamond” here in London. I’m sure lots of you have seen it or read about it. Like The Constant Gardner it does an excellent job of awareness raising (albeit both about half a decade behind the crises) on hugely important issues – health and war in conflict and bad governance ravaged Africa. Lots of the reviews I read were unfavourable, but I thought it was a well paced film that didn’t feel much over two hours long.
So while it helps hugely to show wide audiences the on the ground situation in Africa, like The Constant Gardener, Blood Diamond is overly lightweight, to say the least, on the role of business in these regions.
While the ‘fact’ (note inverted commas) of corporate complicity (rather than causation) is clearly made (whether or not that is accurate is open to debate) in Blood Diamond, like The Constant Gardner its final scenes rather stretch the imagination more than poetic licence demands.
In The Constant Gardener it’s the pharma company’s security team that is closely involved in the hunt for the hero protagonist. In Blood Diamond, a corporate executive at the right hand of the CEO buys illegal conflict diamonds in black cabs for cash.
Both scenes are wildly inaccurate of how 99.99% of companies would behave in any given situation. While some nefarious corporate colonialist types might have tried to engage in such behaviour half a century or more ago, to suggest big companies might act like this nowadays somewhat beggars belief.
The diamond industry’s PR response to the movie fell right into the hands of Warner Brothers, keeping the headlines rolling in. Some lessons there for business – don’t go over the top and fuel existing flames.
Like the NGOs, film makers love a relatively simplistic view of business and its impacts, and no doubt would argue that their utilitarian approach hurts a societal stakeholder that can well afford it. But this is misguided. People CAN grasp complexity, indeed they appreciate it (do you know anyone who’s personal life is simple?) and so my view is that NGOs and film makers do everyone a disservice with overly simplified portrayals of business impacts on society and conflict.
The movie Syriana stands out as an example of how to do it well. This is a film that tells it like it is, the worst offenders being shown to be governments. All the business related claims it made are 100% backed up by past and current, documented actions. So here’s to more activist film making. Just make it a bit smarter please.
Toby Webb, Editor