Spike Lee has just released a film called “CSA: The Confederate States of America.” Entertainment Weekly hails it as what could be the most controversial movie you will ever see. It shows scenes of slaves being sold on QVC and other projections of what life would be like in a modern day Confederacy.
Mr. Lee and his colleagues have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to discuss race relations through their film. I do not question their motives. Allow me to suggest a much better subject that could do the same thing with far greater appeal. I suggest a biopic on Dr. David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer.
At the time of his explorations in the 1840s and 1850s, England was opposed to slavery. Livingstone vigorously fought it and that partially motivated his exploration. From Exploration of Africa, by Thomas Sterling:
“I feel assured,” wrote Livingstone, “that if Christian merchants would establish a legitimate commerce on the Zambezi they would drive slave dealers out of the market, and would certainly be no losers in the end.” Initially, at least, his desire to explore the Zambezi was prompted by a passionate belief that if he succeeded in marking out trade routes in southern Africa, the institution of slavery would topple.In the 1850s, slavery was a profitable enterprise. Many African tribes were making a handsome profit selling slaves and mining and agricultural firms in the New World were buying them as fast as they could. The financial temptations of slavery seduced the buyers and sellers into evil and Dr. Livingstone knew it. So long as selling humans made more money than selling the fruit of their labor, Africans and Europeans captured and sold slaves.
Dr. Livingstone’s life had great drama and moral choices. His explorations were amazing feats of human endurance and determination. The people he encountered, both African and European, ran the full spectrum of the human experience, from sublime to utterly evil.
The movie could also be shot entirely in Africa. The cinematography would be gorgeous and the filming would prove an economic boon to some places that could use the cash. I’d pay just to see the landscapes in the background.
Most of all, the movie could be a vehicle for the kind of complicated messages that Spike Lee has given us in the past. My favorite film of his was one of his first, Do the Right Thing. Subtle and deeply layered, that movie caused me to do a lot of soul searching about my own attitudes towards race. A movie about Dr. Livingstone could explore the personal conflicts in religion, politics, relationships, business and more.
As for controversy, what subject could have more? Imagine a popular, avant-garde, modern day filmmaker doing a film complimentary of a white, Christian missionary and revolutionary Africans who tried to use free market forces to eliminate tyrannical oppression. In Hollywood, how much more daring could you be?