The Last King of Scotland, by Kevin McDonald, UK The last king of Uganda
The above title is squeezed from Kevin Mcdonald's film, a Ugandan historically stunning dramatic extravaganza: "The Last King of Scotland". Just to situate this reading: As a Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada, Forest Whitaker gives "one of the great performances of modern history" (The Wall Street Journal), One that the Associated Press calls "Nothing short of OSCAR worthy."
This is Idi Amin Dada's incredible story as seen through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a young Scotsman who becomes the volatile leader's personal physician, due in part for Amin's unexpected passion for Scottish culture - Ami even proclaims himself "The Last King of Scotland." Seduced by Amin's charisma and blinded by decadence, Garrigan's dream life becomes a waking nightmare of betrayal and madness from which there is no escape.
The essence of this write up is to open up a scientific debate on a film made in Africa by a Scottish. It is important to locate this treatment at a semiotic perspective as well as display a scientific way of reading a film. This is going to be done from a historical background, the type of producers or production houses, the type of Director, Director of Photography, Sound technician, Light Technician, Costumes, Actors, and editing.
African history has a great deal of elements to talk about. The core of this treatment is going to be on leadership, the ways in which the West looks at African leadership and how Africans embrace the presence of the West in modern times.
Not only Africans have made many films in Africa. Some of the films made in Africa that have had Academy Awards are Blood Diamond [Edward Zwick, 2007, USA], Lumumba [Raoul Peck, 2000, Haiti], Hotel Rwanda [Terry George, 2005, USA], and The Last King of Scotland. They are usually big budget films. The films; Lumumba,The Last King of Scotland [UK/USA, 2007] and Mobutu King of Zaire [Thierry Michel, 1999, Belgium] deal with African dictators. The films are mostly made under the concept of Orientalism.
To begin with, many factors have accounted to the success of The Last King of Scotland. Joint production is one of the key factors of this success. Fox searchlight Pictures, DNA Films and FILMFOUR in Association with The UK Film Council and Scottish Screen, are the machines behind the success of this Academy Award master piece, shot in Africa. These production houses are reputed for their usual great work. Coming together for this Magnum opus was not a joke. That is why it ended up with an Academy award.
Characterisation and role-playing as another key element, catches one's attention in this film. Forest Whitaker, Kerry Washington and David Odeyelowo are star actors who went through series of transformation just to get into character. They are professionals in the domain of Acting and have awards as actors. There is a brilliant marketing strategy in film production.
Nigerians are so good in this Star system form of production that has empowered many Nigerians economically. Forest Whitaker as well went through a huge psychological and physically brutal metamorphosis in order to incarnate as well as journey us into this Machiavelli and macabre world in which Amin lived in during his reign. The documentary award-winning director of The Last King of Scotland in the name of Kevin MacDonald journeys and makes one to revisit Ugandan history. A carefully carves out a constructed image of the one time Ugandan dictator that represents one of the most ugly portion of African History.
Real people and real events inspire this film. It opens with an African music. The image of a white young man in the middle of a country site bus entering a small village in Uganda can be likened to the coming of civilisation in a place clustered with stress and no hope.
Europeans entering Africa from an exploratory, imperialistic, to colonial style with sex minds. James McAvoy who plays Dr. Nicholas Garrigan comes in during a government transition period. Kevin presents Uganda through the lens of the "other". From a Western point of view as he presents Amin's first scene through the eyes of Garrigan in a Banal manner. Amin who is the president of Uganda is treated in a denoted way.
This opens up an enticing approach to the notion of point of view in filmmaking. Amin's entrance in his second scene reminds us about "L'arrivée d'un train en gare de la Ciotat" [Auguste & Louis Lumière, 1895]. Amin is presented here as a hideous ugly beast. First of all, the camera steady cams him from behind with his massive back that almost fills the screen. He walks into frame up the stage for his campaign speech and the camera twirls back on his face in an extreme frightful close up to intensify his aggressive and bestial nature that makes him look savagely cruel and depraved. As if it was not the end, he plunges into the normal false promises that many presidents would make before taking office. It is so strange that in Amin's case, he makes his promises only when he is President. Thus, making us to think that many African presidents would hardly define their plan of action before elections. They would say: "Vote for me and I will show you what I will do for you after".
The use of costumes reveals some kind of realistic meanness of a whole head of state. Slightly after Amin's campaign speech in the small village at the outskirt of Kampala, Amin's car has an accident with a cow. Amin is reduced to nothing as he exchanges his Army and state Jacket to a mere Scottish doctor whose aim is to go around the world in the name of medecine doctor and feel good about himself, in return for a t-shirt written on it "Scotland".
Historically, Amin loved Scotland so much because he worked with the Scottish army and they are those who made him president of Uganda. Costume in this perspective, instead gives strength to Garrigan who represents the West. This by implication, painting the image of "Post Colonial Colonialism (Neocolonialism)" where any white skin in Africa, no matter the age and level, can run down even a president because he or she is from the West.
The use of costumes also demarcates Nicholas Garrigan from the other Whites in the film. Nicholas enjoys the Presidential Limousin and places his dirty shoes on the seats of the car, to emphasis on the beginning of confidence and freedom that he cannot have even in his own country. Even Ugandan ministers and Foreign High Commissioners could never have such privileges. Amin immediately appoints Nicholas as his personal physician. To match up the social class strata, Nicholas is quickly dressed up. Through presidential instructions, his outfits are quickly revised in order to make him get out of the subaltern habits he had. In no second, Nicholas sees himself from Grass to grace.
Still on a realistic note, this film touches one of the most sensitive aspects of human nature, which is a precarious problem even in Cameroon. The health sectors of many African countries are calls for concern. Many remote areas do not have hospitals as well as health centers. Kevin Mcdonald stresses on and makes part of this film very true as he touches the poor.
It makes sense to point out that the normal location and target of this film is on "healthy life for the poor people". That is why he sets the film not in the capital, Kampala, but in a small village out of Kampala. The people in this village do not have access to good medication, Kevin sets out to bring philanthropists to rescue the health system of this poor people in what is known as "The Last King of Scotland"
The manifestation of power from this moment of the film is a pungent wind of change not only to the detriment of the Ugandans, but also the Ugandan diplomatic relations. This can be likened to Antonio Gramsci's notion of hegemony. Nicholas Garrigan is now the president's personal representative. He knows nothing about diplomacy and international relations. But because he is also the President's personal adviser, he sits in for the president and embarrasses not only the post of president, but also, the diplomats who are scandalised to see a mere medical doctor with a bachelor's degree, hosting an international presidential conference. Is this really true of Uganda under Amin or it is a figment of Kevin Mcdonald's hyperbolic intention to reveal how malicious, pitiless, unkind, vicious, merciless, callous and careless Amin was to the detriment of the country? This film from this perspective ponders on the ways in which the economically marginalised have been marketed by free politics.
Sound is given a highly careful treatment in this film. Knowing fully well that sound is composed of Dialogue, Music and Noise; Kevin makes use of this classical and still up to date approach. There is the use of natural and artificial sound effects. The dialogues were recorded separately from natural effects. The music were collections from some of the Ugandan Actors who were at the same time musicians. The opening song of the film as Garrigan penetrates Uganda with the bus, is a "Welcome to the party" kind of music. It is some form of a celebration song, though there was government take over. In this case, it is like; ‘welcome Garrigan. Everything is so easy here in Uganda. Take and use them as you want.' The song opens up a sexually decayed Uganda as Garrigan easily have sex in form of a dream with the girl in the bus. A second presentation of a decayed society is when Kevin uses a gruesome music to make obvious Garrigan's frustration and anger, as well as to build up Garrigan's sexual relations and encounter with Kerry Washington in order to release his anger. There are some sound effects like gunshots that constantly frighten at a distance to demonstrate the unsafe and tensed nature of the country at the time.
Amin as a president as presented by Kevin Mcdonald, is one of the biggest political question of the 21st Century in African history. Many always wonder whether a human being can eat another human being's flesh. It can be shameful an embarrassing, though amusing to others to hear from the mouth of a president that people should not be afraid to eat the good food that he has prepared for them because it is all Ugandan and locally made not "human flesh".
Amin as a human being presents an avenue of trust. He who kills you is most often the one who eats with you in the same dish. If possible, leaves with you in the same house. Amin considers Garrigan his own "son" and tells him flat that he is "Garrigan's father". Being his personal physician, Garrigan walks in and out of Amin's bedroom, a place where Amin's wives visit only on appointed appointments. This by implication is the manifestation of excessive intimacy. When Garrigan treats Amin from constipation, feeling ashamed of the kind of illness, he levels up himself with Garrigan as he exposes the true story of his humble background.
Make up plays a vital role in the making of this film. Forest is naturally a handsome and cool guy. But in this film, he is successfully made up to frighten and to take the piss.
The general ethics of the film presents fright, decadence, no hope and shame, it is not meant for people below 18 years. It is a big question to media violence. The making of this film though through the point of view of the West, must not be considered a postcolonial bias to African history. It is a hyperbolic exposure of the cruelty of some African leaders.