‘Beasts of No Nation’: A Throwback to Colonial Attitudes Towards Africa?

Is it just me..? But after viewing ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and sitting through a painful colonial throwback Q&A, with an all-white team of ‘Beasts’ Producers and Director lamenting about how difficult it was to shoot in Ghana, how the Director (Cary Fukunaga – who’s colonial attitude on this day reeked of condescension) got malaria, how getting food to feed the crew and water to hydrate staff, were such difficult things to accomplish in the ‘country’ of Africa… I began to wonder, as I looked at the entirely white team of complaining professionals on stage at the Academy screening room, and the token young African boy in their midst (the wonderfully talented first time actor Abraham Attah – winner of the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the 72nd Venice Film Festival) “Why in the world would they choose to make a film about Child Soldiers in rural Africa?”

Clearly they all seemed to hate every minute of their African experience, and they certainly made absolutely NO ATTEMPT to enlighten us as to where these kids (and for that matter the crippled Government factions represented in their film) get access to machine guns, RPGs, and an array of artillery that would make Sylvester Stallone proud. In fact with ZERO attempt made to contextualize the lives of these unfortunate children within the scheme of global national economies whose primary exports are ARMS (USA, GERMANY, RUSSIA, CHINA, FRANCE etc.). I wondered what the purpose of making ‘Beasts’ was? While superbly acted – Idris Elba stands to get an Oscar nod, especially since this is a negative African character in keeping with Black Oscar tradition – there seems to be no purpose to ‘Beasts’ other than that of spectating; a sort of Child soldier porn, in the tradition of Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s 2011 ‘Johnny Mad Dog’.

‘Beasts’ is yet another window into the pitiful but mesmerizing world of African pathology and suffering that Hollywood and European audiences seem so unable to resist. Of course this addiction plays out equally well in western urban (yes… Black) neighborhoods where we can substitute the moniker ‘Beasts’ for ‘Menace’ ‘Gangs’ or ‘Thugs’ with a sly nod toward the well worn subtext of “Isn’t this tragic..? But, ah-well, this is what they do. Let’s keep watching”.

As an actor based in Hollywood, I have turned down roles in three films focused on the suffering of African child soldiers. Films with no conscience or concern for the train of external events that create the civil wars, encourage the corruption and support the dictators who despite the United Nations admonishments continue to be increasingly well armed. And all the while these African nations are presented in global reports as being so disorganized and poverty stricken that they are unable to support even a film crew’s infrastructure, or their basic food and water needs. But somehow their military arsenals grow with the sort of rampant prodigiousness that would make the local banana crops blush.

When in the world will someone tell the REAL story of child soldiers? About the real factors that allow for these unfortunate children – OUR CHILDREN – to be ripped from their families, to be forced into such horrors. The responsibility, the answers and ultimately the solutions are not to be found in ‘Beasts’. Not in the suffering and pathology of the battlefields, nor in the remotest parts of the African bush, no matter how intrusively Netflix forces it’s lens, or Hollywood satiates its lust for Black suffering and pathology masquerading as concern.

– Rodney Charles

Rodney Charles is an award winning writer, filmmaker, actor and Vice President of the African Artists’ Association. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.