Author Archives: SirRohanSharma

Digital Particpation: District 9 Film Review

So in keeping with theme of  African sci-fi I wanted to experience a taste of cinematic African sci-fi. I had read on our blog another student’s review of this movie and I had to check it out. I had first experienced director Neill Blomkamp with his underwhelming first film Elysium. District 9 however blows that film out of the water. The film is set in an alternate universe Johannesburg, South Africa. In this universe alien spaceships have descended upon JoBurg and the aliens called “prawns” have settled into camps called “District 9.” Humans in South Africa are not happy by this and treat the aliens with violence. The movie really kicks off when a human government official Wikus gets sprayed with some Alien fluid when making a raid in District 9. The fluid starts turning Wikus into one of the aliens and causes him to hunt down a way for him to get cured. The movie is a hard watch because the scenes of Wikus slowly turning into an alien is surprisingly heartbreaking. Especially when his own human race rejects him. It is also interesting how realistic they portray life around the aliens. For instance, gangs start to make trades and set up businesses with the aliens, creating commerce. I really think this film should be shown in congruence with the class. This film deals with a lot of themes we read/learned about in class. For instance, the aliens experience a lot of xenophobia and racism which mirrors what black Africans experienced during apartheid. The isolation that Wikus experiences when he gets infected with the alien fluid is similar to what people who have HIV/AIDS experienced in South Africa. This film is actually a fantastic sci-fi film, easily one of the best I’ve ever seen. There is even a cool robot mecha suit battle near the end. Go watch this movie!

Short Story: The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

During our semester we’ve covered various novels. However my biggest critique is that a lot of these novels (minus Dog Days) seem to be realistic fiction. I wanted to go outside the box and explore a genre that I hold dear to me, science fiction. The short story “The Book of Phoenix” is sort of like Nigerian X-Men meets the Hunger Games. The story describes a Nigerian woman who’s name is Phoenix and her weird secluded life living in a medical facility tower. Though she is secluded from the outside world, there are many other characters she interacts with and befriends. When her best friend Saeed randomly dies, things change. This short story is fun and great escapism. It makes a good commentary on using your perceived weakness as your strength. While the ending was predictable, I did enjoy this new take on the Science Fiction genre.

Link to Short Story:

The Sexual Imagery in Imitation

One thing I noticed when we were discussing “Imitation” from The Thing Around Your Neck, is the heavy usage of sexual imagery. This sexual imagery is predominately used by Nkem and it lends insight into her character. The first real instance of her using any sexual imagery is early in the novel  when she thinks about the Benin people carving masks.

Nkem imagines the proud young men, muscled, brown skin gleaming with palm kernel oil, graceful loincloths on their waists.

This shows the reader Nkem’s inner fantasy of strong oily tribal men. This contrasts to later in the novel when she observers Obiora in their bedroom,

His belly looks different. Rounder and riper. She wonders how girls in their twenties can stand that blatant sign of self-indulgent middle age. She tries to remember the married men she had dated. Had they ripe bellies like Obiora

In this section, the reader can see her questioning her attraction to Obiora by noticing his belly. Even the word usage is different. Gleaming vs Self-indulgent.

We also see this sexual imagery again when she planned to “wax her pubic hair into a thin line, the way Obiora likes.” Here the reader can tell that Nkem is excited to see her husband by planning to arrange herself to his liking. This also symbolizes her past willingness to please her husband sexually. As she says later,

In the early years, she would shower with him, sink down to “her knees and take him in her mouth, excited by him and by the steam enclosing them.

This contrasts with her feelings now. She decides not to wax which shows the reader that she is clearly not in the mood for Obiora. Even later when he wants to shower with her, she is very hesitant and needs cajoling. To me I read that as her almost using this as a strategical move in order to get him in a vulnerable state so she can ask him to move back. Thoughts?

Yesterday and Dallas Buyers Club

When watching the film Yesterday it reminded me of a recent film that dealt with the same subject matter. That film is the excellent film Dallas Buyers Club. This film (if you don’t know the plot) deals with a homophobic man named Ron Woodroof and how he comes to terms with dealing with his AIDS. During this time he begins to help other people get medicine during a time where AIDS was still a mystery. I found some interesting parallels between two the movies.

The first interesting parallel I found was in the characters of Yesterday and Ron Woodroof. Both characters had to come to terms with their disease and at the same time help a different person get through it as well. The person that both main characters are helping is someone that both main characters have problems with. Ron for instance helps a transsexual woman named Rayon. The film Dallas Buyers Club, establishes early on in the movie that Ron hates the LGBT community. But as the film goes on he comes to respect and adore the LGBT community and has Rayon be his business partner. In the film Yesterday Yesterday helps her husband who more or less has cheated on her, beat her, and essentially has abandoned her. While the film does not state that Yesterday resents her husband. I’m sure her feelings for him are not very positive. But she is able to forgo that in order to take care of him. Both Yesterday and Ron are selfless characters who could’ve done anything else while dealing with this disease, instead they decided to help characters dealing with HIV/AIDS instead.

Another parallel is the role of the kind female doctor in both movies. In Dallas Buyers Club, Dr. Saks tries everything in her power to help Ron use the medicine he has found instead of the AZT medicine the doctors have prescribed. This is because AZT has deadly side effects. In the film Yesterday , the doctor in that is not as drastic. However she treats Yesterday with kindness and respect, something you wouldn’t expect when you see the long line for the clinic at the beginning of the movie.

I think both movies cover the hardships and sacrifice AIDs/HIV victims go through and both are extremely powerful movies with extremely powerful central characters.

Digital Participation (Film Review): The Square

Wow. Just wow. I’m not one for documentaries, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Square. The Square takes place in the heart of the action in Tahir Square during 2011-2013. The film takes us through the revolutions in Egypt through the eyes of Egyptian youth who are fairly close to our age. The film is shot so we really feel like we are going through the same experiences as the revolutionaries. We are silent companions as we hear each of them defend their beliefs and sacrifice everything in order to make their voices heard. This is a very strong point of the movie. You basically enter the revolutionaries’ lives. There is a very powerful scene when former Hollywood actor, Khalid Abdalla is telling his father via Skype that he does not care what happens to him as long as he is able to protest in the square. The viewer learns that Tahir Square is more than a spot for a revolution. It becomes a community with life and music. Actually, the music is one of the highlights of this film. My personal favorite storyline is the storyline of Ahmed Hassan. He is sort of the de facto main character and we see him age from a passionate (and rather naïve) revolutionary to a hardened and mature one. In this way he is sort of like Isaac in All Our Names, though without the murdering. While this documentary does take you through an emotional roller coaster, it does leave you with a sensation of hope. You see a lot of dark and horrible things, (I do not want to get too specific to keep the shock value) but yet there is also good. You see laughter. You see love. You see sides coming together. You see art. It shows to the viewer that the Egyptian revolution is more than a political revolution; it’s also a cultural one.

All Our Names- Identity Lost

One of the major themes that stood out to me in this novel is the theme of “lost identity.” This theme is important because not only does it apply to the novel, but also used by the author to critique modern society. It applies to the novel because the main character Isaac suffers from a lost identity. He mentions in the book that

I had 13 names. Each name was from a different generation, beginning with my father and going back from him.”

In this quote Isaac is already alluding to the fact that he suffers from a lost identity because his names are just a reflection of his family not him. There is also a more explicit case in the novel when he goes to the diner with Helen, and he is served with paper plates and plastic utensils. The diner attempts to strip his identity as a person by treating Isaac like a 3rd class citizen.

On a larger scale I think the author uses this theme of “lost identity” to critique the way Westerners view black people. In America for example, we use the ‘politically correct’ term to describe all black people as African Americans. A major problem with this is not all black people in America are from Africa. Some people are from Central America or South America. As Dinaw Mengestu grew up in Illinois, he might have experienced some of that first hand. Another way to look at this theme in a more current view is how there can be a tendency for westerners to imitate some of the black culture (Miley Cyrus) through personal style, music, and dance.

I also could be completely wrong about this and somehow talked myself into this making sense. Your thoughts?