Uganda is in the news.
It’s Oscar time, and Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin, the infamous Ugandan president, has made him the favorite to win a statue. The film is called The Last King of Scotland, which was one of the many titles Amin bestowed upon himself during his rule from 1971-1979. At one point, his official title was His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular. Perhaps that one was too long to use in a movie title. (For more on Amin, click here.)
The movie has finally been released in Uganda itself, and the reaction has been mostly positive (For good NYTimes and IHT coverage of the Kampala opening and reactions, click here and here.). Filming took place in Uganda (BBC), giving the local economy a boost and allowing for people who lived through Amin’s regime to take part in the project.
I went to see The Last King of Scotland the day after I said yes to a Peace Corps invitation to Uganda. It was, in a word, intense. Two words? Very intense. There are a few pretty graphic scenes that are hard to watch, and purposefully so. I had to keep reminding myself that all of this happened in the past, so I’m definitely not letting my parents see it. Still, the film gave me a glimpse into Uganda’s complicated political history and some views of the green Ugandan countryside. Even though Whitaker gave Amin a more nuanced character than most and the writers made it clear that Amin’s brutality was, in part, a creation of colonialism, I worry that the film will reinforce the world’s view of Uganda as the country of Amin. Even so, I’d recommended it– just not to the faint of heart…or my mother.