The Single Story

All I had heard about them is how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them”.
Chimamanda Adichie

“Ghetto millionaires” my choice at the just ended Helsinki Docpoint festival, could have been a fascinating exploration of a modern phenomenon. Instead it turned out as just another negative portrayal of Africans. It could have been about a “Sapeur” who, despite spending thousands of Euro on designer clothes, is still able to take care of his family and send money to extended family in Kinshasa – all on a maintenance man’s salary

Belgian director, Gilles Remiche depicts the “La Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes” as a group whose lives are so weighted by unhappiness and failure that they become wastrels, desperate seeking attention through membership of Le Sape.

Needless to say, Le Sape could be just that - a society of overdressed drug dealers and compulsive shoppers - but the documentary does not give the viewer the option to decide for themselves. The film is about people seemingly trapped between money, family in Kinshasa with unrealistic expectations, dead end jobs or criminal activity and the need to be noticed.

The story centres on Tigana works an honest job as a handyman. Almost immediately, random drug dealing Sapeurs who have been repeatedly convicted of crimes are interviewed to make the point that this could not possibly be a positive depiction of black Africans. Tigana speaks of other immigrants who have successfully built homes and sent money home, but such success stories are never shown.

Above all are Tigana’s family in Kinshasa, who upon his return after a ten year absence, briefly celebrate his return and then proceed to make a litany of financial demands. The scenes are cut and pasted together to depict Kinshasa, Tigana and his family as miserable, a people only interested in the superficial trappings of wealth.

A documentary about smiling happy people would probably be fairly dull. I understand why a director would choose topics that exciting or shocking to arouse interest from the potential audience. The topic is intrinsically interesting but the director chose the safe route, the one two often tread.

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

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