Kyle Phoenix DVD Review: A Planet Rock (Blood Diamonds),by Kyle Phoenix

Bling: A Planet Rock (Blood Diamonds), DVD Review

To watch this DVD, I'm struck by several things. First the amount of contradictions and confusion expressed by African Americans at the exploitation of Africans. When hip-hop celebrities Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan, Paul Wall and Tego Calderon travel to war-torn Sierra Leone, West Africa they're confronted with the origin of the "bling"---flashing of lots and lots and lots of diamonds. Paul Wall is even in the diamond business with his partner who travels with him. On one hand I believe that they didn't understand the depth of the misery and blood that the diamonds were mined under and on the other, one has to ask how they couldn't know or suspect. Then when you listen to the three of them, Calderon in his low key, often silent but deeply insightful comments comes off as the smartest, you realize that ignorance is the norm to some celebrities. I was having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about Rihanna or Lindsay Lohan or Lil' Wayne or Pick A Star and I pointed out that when we see younger people/celebrities exampling such bad behavior we're often watching barely high school educated people coping with bigger concepts in life. We're very rarely watching college educated, worldly people who are thinkers and readers and philosophy students, who just happen to be celebrities. Bling makes this so glaringly obvious that it becomes a spotlight on celebrity buffoonery.

Sierra Leone endured a horrendous civil war in the late 1990's, the prize and instigator being it's many diamond mines that had been exploited since the 1950s by European companies. The people literally imploded onto themselves turning children into killing soldiers, amputating the limbs from children and adults alike, raping tens of thousands of women and killing hundreds of thousands more. Already a country teetering between development and desperation, the country was torn asunder. Ironically one of the poorest towns, Kroobay, Freetown is where many African slaves were taken from in the 1800s. The dark irony of rappers standing on that side of the coast, the vista beyond breathtaking but surrounded by victims of neo-slavery suddenly suggested to me as a shattering of a people. Splintered across 10,000 miles the African exploited have become the African-American exploiters and the Americanized exploiters return to discover that this is the birthplace of their own exploitation.

Confronted with the atrocities of war refugee camps and amputee towns and then even a diamond mine the celebrities are forced to really examine their own complicity in the horrors, particularly when several Africans rightfully and righteously lash out at them for essentially being voyeurs at their pain. The diamond mine owner, Jan Joubert confronts them with the question of if he's employing 450 Africans and paying the government 5% of profits and the town itself 10% of profits, how is he still responsible for the abject poverty? That perhaps they need to expand their scope and look at the full system of exploitation and question themselves and the Sierra Leone government, which one could argue he knows they neither have the courage, resources or wherewithal to do thereby maintaining his tenuously secure position as a dealer to diamond addicts like them. Absent from this film is the Sierra Leone government's explanation for what's occuring, in fact the country seems almost bereft of any ruling body and teetering on full collapse. Suddenly, the participants are left with their meager view and resources against what is a worldwide system of greed and exploitation. When Raekwon argues with the mine owner how can he allow this poverty to exist he lets slip that he and his friends love diamonds and the owner simply looks at him and nods because the answer is apparent---I give you and yours what you crave and because suddenly your craving is exposed as having blood on it you're mad at me. The Demander is suddenly trapped by the shrug of the Supplier.

The beginning of the film interviews briefly, too briefly rappers but then amazingly pimps as to the image that diamonds and grandiose, ostentatious signs of wealth projected into communities of color that were consumed with poverty already. Poverty then created a deep desire for wealth and diamonds became the expression of having made it, having triumphed beyond it. Kanye West courageously points out the addiction to not looking poor when you've come from poverty. And we're left with looking at African American men most the legacy of African slaves enslaving African people on the other side of the ocean. This is great film for looking at that full circle impact and discussing what is the difference between the raped and the rapist.

Thank you!

Kyle Phoenix

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