Otomo: film review

Europeans invaded Africa to steal her wealth. Germans colonized Cameroon (Kamerun) in 1884. England colonized Nigeria in 1885 (though they slave traded there for a century prior).   Then came the European war to end all wars.  In 1914, during World War I, the British in Nigeria attacked and defeated their German enemies in Cameroon. After the war, the spoils (the land of the Africans in the Cameroon area) were divided among the French and the British.  Cameroon did not secure independence from White Europeans until 1960.

During World War I, an African man helped the Germans in their battles against the British, but after his loyalty to the ‘wrong side’, the man was labeled as a German sympathizer in Cameroon and his family was treated poorly. His son (Otomo) fled Cameroon as a stow-away on a ship from Liberia and ended up as a refugee in Germany. But Germany was no friend to Otomo. Though he lived in Germany for 8 years, he lived in constant poverty, with no work papers and always isolated from German society.

This is a 1999 German film about Otomo’s fate — it is a true story. I liked the film because I got an opportunity to read a little on the history of Cameroon, and to see another side of Germany. It was a dreary film taking place in Stuttgart where we are only shown industrial run down districts with grey buildings giving a sense of hopelessness on foggy, bland days. It is not a fun film and the plot is routine.

Otomo is a religious man. And though his religion was his strength for years, it fails him in the end.  The kindness of a Catholic charity paid his rent for a dingy apartment where his only art was a cheap Jesus poster (reminding me of my embarrassing College poster).  But years of poverty and hopelessness changed the devote Otomo.  The film shows these changes. But we are naive to think that even ourselves, with the best of ideals, would not also change after years of poverty, no respect and no hope?  Even religion can only offer so much salvation.  No god will come to our aid.  For as the heroine of this film pleas: “People can help each other!”

Interestingly, I just saw this short YouTube presentation which bemoans the image Westerners have of Africans through their Hollywood films.  But this German film, just like the previous Zulu film I reviewed, only request from us pity for Africans, it does not offer us an image that this short YouTube presentation requests.  I am not sure where to go with that.  Any suggestions?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Otomo: film review

  1. TWF

    Gee, my impression is that African men are very generous. I mean, according to the emails, Nigerian princes and other financially endowed persons always seem to want to share their millions with me.

    I don’t think that Hollywood has really influenced my opinion of Africans, certainly not in the way the YouTube video suggests. But I think I can see how Africans could get that mistaken perspective. They notice anytime Africa is used as a backdrop for the story, but perhaps they don’t realize that those stories are just a minority in the plethora of violent films where typically the aggressor is foreign. That’s just because Hollywood has already covered the American bloodshed of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Cowboys and Indians, the mafia, etc. (At least for the time being.)

    Your “No god will come to our aid.” line made me think of the two popular sayings:

    God helps those who help themselves.
    – and –
    Faith can move mountains, but you’d better bring a shovel.

    Of course, these are usually said by people of the faith, in a tacit realization that god is not really going to do anything for you, other than perhaps provide encouragement.

  2. LOL (about the e-mail scams). Yes, I agree. Those popular sayings are how cultural Christians buffer the nonsense the religious specialists try to push on them.

  3. sgl

    The Danger of a Single Story is a very good ~20 minute ted talk about this same issue of african stereotypes. interestingly, the speaker[Chimamanda Adichie] is middle-class nigerian author, who harbored her own stereotypes about poor africans, and about africans vs europeans from books as a youngster, before she confronted stereotypes from americans when she came to college in the usa:
    Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

    Inspired by Nigerian history and tragedies all but forgotten by recent generations of westerners, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels and stories are jewels in the crown of diasporan literature.
    The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie )
    and, from another source… matt harding who became an internet celebrity for filming himself dancing badly in various spots around the world, had a bit of an epiphany when dancing in rwanda (excerpt from a news story that’s no longer available at the original link i had, sorry):
    His most memorable moment, though, was in a small village in Rwanda.

    “I just started dancing and all these kids standing around thought it was hilarious, and started dancing as well… There was no communication. I didn’t tell them what I was going to do.”

    In a nation defined by genocide, Harding says the video showed another side.

    “I feel like everything we see, particularly out of somewhere like Rwanda, is these images of horror and devastation that happen there. It becomes dehumanizing. I think we see the suffering and we don’t think of them as being like us.”
    the rwanda episode of the kids dancing with him is at 2:52 in the second video:
    second video here and the third video is here


  4. @sgl,
    Thanks for the links. The quote where Adichie agrees with me is:

    If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.

    But she admits that she did the same with Mexican immigrants in the USA.

    So many stories, so many to balance. I guess the best we can do is recognize how few we know. And where important, ask for stories from others.

    I sometimes feel that many atheists evaluate all “religion” in general based solely (or primarily) on their reaction to Christianity — or even worse, to their reaction to one particular type of Christianity — a very narrow story by which to make broad generalizations.

    Thanx again for the links (I fixed them up for you)

  5. I was discussing this western image of third world peoples with my friend Mar just last night.
    Mar and her extended family have gone to Calcutta at least once a year for the last six years, and have made a point of befriending the 30 or so people who live and gather their livelihood and living from a dump on the outskirts of the city. They’ve established a fund so that 43 children from the slums are now attending school, and are given at least one meal a day, if not two.
    Despite their poverty, these people find joy their lives. They have friends, and family and things to do and places to go and clothes to wash and all the daily things that nearly everyone else on the planet has – A Life.
    When we in the west see the people of developing countries or third world countries, it is most often in the context of international news. And what we see on the news is hardship, and suffering, famine, war, pestilence and tragedy. It is very rare that we are exposed to the “normality” of these lives – women playing with their children and kids fooling around playing games with each other, fathers coming home tired with their work but happy to be with their wives and children.
    As for resources for videos I suggest that you search christian ministry sites – there may be a rare something available that doesn’t have Jesus painted all over it.

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