On December 8 the Warner Bros movie 'Blood Diamond' opens nationwide. The film has been predicted to raise questions among consumers about the provenance of diamonds they purchase this holiday season and into the New Year. After a pre-screening we believe those questions can only result in a positive spread of awareness. Here are our thoughts:
Depiction of the Diamond Industry
Some diamond industry professionals were concerned that no temporal context would be given, but wording at the front of the film placed it in 1999 Sierra Leone. For that matter one bar scene showed TV news featuring the Clinton/Lewinsky story, just in case you were getting that $12 popcorn and soda during the opening credits. Close to the beginning is a portrayal of the 12/99 G8 Summit in Antwerp to provide background for the audience. This is artfully juxtaposed with action happening in the story line. A point of contention could be the percentage of world rough affected by illicit trade at the issue's zenith in the late 1990s: The film gives the figure as 15% (from NGO Global Witness) while industry sources have put it considerably lower, reduced to under 1% now.
The movie’s diamond industry bad guys are the all-powerful Van Der Kaap cartel (a DeBeers parody). Scrappy arms dealers take illicit rough as payment from rebels and smuggle it to neighboring Liberia. The Van Der Kaap cartel knowingly looks the other way and lets these conflict diamonds be sorted in with legitimate rough. Why? So that they acquire all available diamonds and store them in secret underground vaults in London. This way they control market prices (where have we heard this before?). Greed even drives officers in the legitimate government military, who overrun rebel-held diamond fields and make their own deals with the cartel. Though portrayed as a corrupt entity, Van Der Kaap remains faceless. The movie actually revolves around the plight of its two main actors, who have entirely different motivations for fanatically pursuing the 100 ct pink “Blood Diamond.”
As the film ends it states that the Kimberly Process came into being as a result of the conditions described. There is the caution that "it is still up to the consumer to insist that a diamond is conflict-free." The movie closes by citing that there are still 200,000 child soldiers in Africa. There is discussion about Apartheid and references are made to similar military actions in Africa revolving around ivory, oil, gold and rubber. It is strongly implied that if the greed didn’t revolve around diamonds it would be something else.
We believe this movie can raise awareness about the scope of the issues in the 1990s and help people understand that such conditions still exist. Those who held no opinion before seeing it may want to find out more about the issues - and what they can do to help.
How was the movie?
In a word? Graphic. Especially with regard to violence involving children.
The storyline seems secondary to assuring that viewers are shocked by violence and chaos. It earns every bit of its R rating and the violence is reminiscent of 'Saving Private Ryan.' Perhaps the conditions being replicated are realistic, but we suggest you keep the pre-teens at home for this one. A recurring theme is speeding jeeps loaded with guys wielding AK-47s who blast around killing anyone and everyone in the open. There is sustained random slaying of women and children, and gun-toting children doing the slaying. It’s not shoot first, ask questions later, it’s shoot and keep shooting until nothing moves. When jeeps stop people are jumping out to kill stragglers, cut off limbs and force people to labor camps. Young boys are abducted, told their parents are dead and brainwashed into becoming child soldiers. This is a focal point of the movie. Some of ‘rites of passage’ we see are these children naked and beaten, forced to fight each other, shooting prisoners while blindfolded, advancing side by side with AK-47s slaughtering a yard full of fleeing women and being injected with heroin. The worst siege is a RUF incursion into Freetown, where the now-familiar high-speed jeep attack is accompanied by torching buildings with surface to surface missiles, people thrown from balconies, a prisoner being jeep-dragged in chains and innocents shot by impromptu firing squads of 10-year old boys.
We predict the DVD version will test your sound system. Not five minutes goes by in the first hour without extended running, gunfire, explosions, shouting and screaming.
Yes, there are diamonds in the story but with so much stuff blowing up you rarely see them. A couple of moments do occur: As Leonardo DiCaprio explains how illicit diamonds come into the cartel’s control we see alternating scenes of a couple buying diamonds in what looks like an American or European jewelry store. A similar moment occurs late in the film when one of the film's characters examines diamonds in a London window display.
When the shooting stops the acting is good, especially from DiCaprio who learned a consistent if not completely authentic accent. Djimon Hounson is very believable. The other cast members support the two main guys just fine, mostly by shooting at them. Maybe Jennifer Connelly could have done more with her role, maybe not…our ears were ringing. The visual effects are Hollywood-great, even with the violent, life-is-cheap angle on steroids. We realize some action video games on Playstation have crazy-violent sensory input too…but the women and children shook us up.
A few memorable lines
“TIA” (‘this is Africa,’ a phrase used to explain-away the chaos).
“Governments only want to stay in power until they’ve stolen enough to go somewhere else.”
“People back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost somebody their hand.”
“Let’s hope they don’t discover oil here. Then we’d have real problems.”
We hope many people will see this movie. It will help professionals and trade insiders spread the understanding that "conflict-free" just scratches the surface. Though dramatically reduced in recent years, hot spots of conflict and suffering remain. The industry aggressively promotes “conflict-free” diamonds. That label may protect consumers from association with conflict, but it doesn’t address the real problem; the people still suffering in Africa.
We’ve established a program, Dreams of Africa, where 100 percent of profits from the sale of a designer line of conflict-free jewelry is donated to victims of conflict diamonds. This program is growing in scope. Our CEO, Debi Wexler, introduced Dreams of Africa to such luminaries as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in September at the largest-ever gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners on American soil We selected Nobel Laureate Betty Williams’ “World Centers of Compassion for Children International” to be our Dreams of Africa charity partner.
Please visit http://www.dreamsofafrica.org/ to learn more about Blood Diamonds and how Whiteflash is being proactive.
(related articles at the end of this review also have more information)
Blood Diamonds still exist. Buying “conflict-free” protects you as consumers but it doesn’t stop the pain. As one company we can’t change governments or politics, but we can create commerce and benevolence to help these people. We can turn diamonds into a gift for life.
Spread The Word
UNICEF is active in Africa. Development diamond initiatives like those proposed by Martin Rapaport are evolving. Our company’s chosen charity partner is theWCCCI and we have a program funding relief for African children. When our family and friends see the movie we intend to pass on that buying “conflict-free” is an important step, but it is only a start. There is more we can do.