Left: Image of "Sahara" packaging courtesy of Kinomaniak.pl
(Toledo, OH) We rented a film called "Sahara" last night, which is an action film based on a novel by Clive Cussler starring real-life lovers Matthew McConaughey and Penélope Cruz. It's pretty forgettable, and generally harmless escapism, but an important part of the film is completely inaccurate.
McConaughey's on-screen charm prevents the film from devolving into the realm of the unwatchable, but this post is not about reviewing a film.
Rather the producers, for an unexplained reason, decided to cast black Africans in the roles of the Tuareg, a group of people who inhabit the Sahara Desert.
The problem is that the Tuareg are ethnically very close to the North African Berber peoples, and have lighter-colored skin.
This might seem to be a minor point, except that it raises questions about this directorial and casting decision. Was director Breck Eisner just another ignorant American who assumed that everyone in Africa is black, or did he consciously choose to misrepresent the ethnicity of the Tuareg?
Did Eisner, who is the son of mogul Michael Eisner, assume that audiences would be more sympathetic to black victims than those who resembled Arabs in this post-9/11 world?
In addition, despite its poverty, Mali is a fairly stable country. The film depicts the nation as a war-torn land run by a ruthless dictator. The nation, in fact, has had a democratically-elected government for almost two decades.
Yes, it is just an action-comedy, and yes, I only spent a buck at the video store to watch the film. Shouldn't we, however, expect some semblance of reality from directors of Hollywood films?
After all, for many people a film like "Sahara" is the closest thing they will get to geography and history lessons.