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Saturday, December 03, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Film sheds light on forgotten load carried in Africa

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Film sheds light on forgotten load carried in AfricaFilm sheds light on forgotten
load carried in Africa

Modern-day plague rips heart out of the Third World

Today is World AIDS Day so it is fitting that HBO, which always stays in the mix, is rerunning "Yesterday," its Academy Award-nominated foreign film, for its viewers this evening.

"Yesterday" has monsters, but none of them are rendered in comic book style and they neither come from outer space nor are they the result of magic. Oh, but you can see them. They appear in microscopes.

The film is the story of an AIDS-infected African woman that proves the same thing we should all know if we have kept our eyes open out here. The women always get it first and get it worst, no matter what it is, it seems. So it is much harder for a woman in a backward culture to prevail through the troubles wrought by disease, war, superstition and poverty. This is true no matter how charming and lively the people around her might seem.

Things are so bad in Africa and for so many reasons that it is often hard for people to face all of the vestiges of "underdevelopment," which actually means backward. That is because we are still caught in a sentimental attitude toward cultures outside of Western civilization. We believe they have something pure to tell us.

We also sometimes feel so guilty about how Western countries have dealt from the bottom of the deck when dealing with the Third World, that we find it impossible to critically look at what goes on, which is often the result of beliefs that arrived without the benefit of science. Those bellies can crush people down.

"Yesterday" is so powerful because it is set in South Africa and the people have a three-dimensionality that we so rarely see when Africans are depicted. Part of the reason is that the relationship between the AIDS-infected mother and her daughter is so realistic and contains conversations between the two that have a beguiling universality. Another is that we all recognize rural types when we see them and are only so ready to be shocked by how their warmth can be drained away by superstition and brutal customs.

When the main character discovers that she is one of those millions in Africa who carry the worst plague of our time, we do not see some wonderful future for her hiding behind a shack. We see how everyone is failed by superstition and doomed by poverty.

This is an important film and one that makes serious observations about the tragic circumstances in which men, women and children can be caught all over the so-called underdeveloped world. If we expect to get more light cast on the burdens imposed on the Third World by disease, poverty, religion, custom and superstition, "Yesterday" can show us the way.

Originally published on December 1, 2005

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