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?