It’s Movie Time: Blood Diamond

When I was in university, I had a prof who rarely stayed on the material we were studying, instead skittering from topic to topic as they popped into his head. From a full year of classes with him, I only remember two things:

  • Each other is two. One another is more than two. They love one another is quite kinky.

And

  • The things we as a society have deemed to be valuable is completely random. It didn’t have to be gold. It could have as easily have been aardvark shit.

I found that phrase coming to mind a lot during Blood Diamond, a film about the horrors wrought by the diamond industry. The film takes place in Sierra Leone in 1999, in the midst of a civil war funded at least in part by conflict, or blood, diamonds. It follows Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who is separated from his family when their village is destroyed by rebels. Forced to mine, he finds and manages to hide a massive pink diamond, escaping when the mining operation is attacked by government troops. He crosses paths with Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor I’ve never much cared for, but is an absolute powerhouse here), a diamond smuggler, who learns about Vandy’s find and convinces him to take him to the diamond in exchange for help finding his family.

The film also features Jennifer Connelly as reporter Maddy Bowen, who is trying to find hard evidence about the blood diamond trade with which she can expose the van de Kaap corporation – a thinly veiled reference to real-life de Beers – and their connection to conflict diamonds.

As someone who spent the ’90s being thoroughly creeped out by de Beers’ shadow commercials, never found diamonds visually appealing, and thought their idea that a man should spend three months salary on an engagement ring was just plain stupid, I was never a fan of the company. And I remember when the news broke about conflict diamonds and de Beers’ practice of hoarding the vast majority of diamonds in order to create scarcity and artificially inflate their value, at which point my already poor opinion of the company reached new lows. So I was quite content to accept them – or, at least, their obvious stand-in – as the villain of Blood Diamond, because in real life, that’s precisely what they were.

The movie doesn’t shy away from the brutality surrounding conflict diamonds. People’s hands are cut off, villages are destroyed, gun battles ravage cities, families are separated, children are forced to be soldiers, others are forced into slavery. And through it all, the protagonists are desperate to find Vanday’s diamond, each for their own reasons, putting their lives at risk time and again to recover it.

At one point, after a scene depicting yet another atrocity, I heard Ron mutter, “It’s a rock,” and knew he felt the same way about it all as my professor and I had.

People recognizing that a diamond is, indeed, just a rock is central to Bowen’s storyline. Confronting Archer for concrete information she can use against van de Kaap, she says, “People back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone else their hand.”

I wish she’d been right.

Because while fiction, Blood Diamond touches on a real-world timeline, from when the public first became aware of de Beers’ practices, through to the introduction of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which was created to keep conflict diamonds out of the mainstream market. Ultimately, the process failed. That you might be purchasing a conflict diamond is still a reality to this day.

And people still buy rings.

For me, that makes Blood Diamond a hard movie to watch. In fact, I’d only seen it once before. I’d remembered the violence and brutality, too gritty for my entertainment tastes, but I’d forgotten the sense of helplessness I’d felt. Watching it, I want to be Bowen, who believes that people will listen and she can make a difference. But an alarming part of me identifies with Archer and his cynicism and his assertion that he’s simply working within a systemic inevitability – “People here kill each other every day. It’s a way of life.”

And as long as the two ends of that spectrum struggle with each other, the Solomon Vandys of the world will continue to fall through the cracks.

To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.

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