Analysing the movie "TITANIC" from an Afrikanist perspective by Malaika wa Azania
by Malaika Wa Azania on Friday, April 13, 2012 at 2:20am ·
ANALYSING THE MOVIE “TITANIC” FROM AN AFRIKANIST PERSPECTIVE by Malaika wa Azania
On the 12th of April 2012, SABC 1 aired a documentary narrating the history of one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time, Chris Hani. Hani is a former uMkhonto weSizwe combatant, former General Secretary of the vanguard party of the working-class, the South Afrikan Communist Party (SACP) and one of the best gems produced by the struggle for Azanian liberation. Interestingly, etv chose to air an old cinema classic, TITANIC, written and directed by Oscar-award winner, James Cameron. Some members of our society opted to watch the Hani documentary and some chose to immerse themselves in Cameron’s masterpiece. While these two stories may seem to have colossal differences in constructs, i want to argue that infact, watching TITANIC is an indirect and perhaps, unconscious way of paying tribute to Hani’s legacy, provided that it is watched not merely as a story about unconditional love, but a story that captures the day-to-day struggles of the working-class across the world; struggles that are created and perpetuated by those who have control and ownership of the means of production.
On the surface, TITANIC is a story about two young people from different class backgrounds who fall in love against all odds, and ultimately make the greatest sacrifice of all for that love: life itself. It is a tale of love that can move mountains, love that defies logic in a quest to find expression and acceptance in an environment that is hostile to poor people. Cameron brilliantly narrates the true story of TITANIC, a ship that sank in the Atlantic Ocean about a century ago, in a fictional manner. This ship was heading from Europe to the United States of AmeriKKKa carrying approximately 2000 passengers who were lured by the prospect of realising and living the AmeriKKKan Dream, at a time when industrialisation was at its zenith. Starring some of the best Hollywood cast that includes Kate Winslet (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD), Leonardo DiCaprio (CATCH ME IF YOU CAN) and Donald Sutherland (THE ITALIAN JOB) to name but a few, TITANIC boasts more than 10 Oscar awards and has been consistently voted as one of the best movies of the 20th century, an accolade well-deserved. It is indeed a poignant love story, one that has brought tears to the millions of viewers that have watched it since its premiere in the 1990s. But this is not all that there is to TITANIC. Infact, from an Afrikanist perspective, this is only a tiny fraction of what TITANIC really is about. I write this note to challenge you to return the retina to your eyes and see TITANIC not as a romantic movie, but as a movie that can serve as a tool for the decolonisation of the Afrikan mind. To do this, i will juxtapose the scenes from TITANIC with the Afrikan reality, with the hope that in the end, you will appreciate the importance of understanding the nature of both the national and the class struggle that engulfs the world.
TITANIC begins with a group of archaeologists, marine biologists and other scientists searching the Atlantic Ocean years after the sinking of the TITANIC. This group of people, of course, is searching not for historical artefacts that can contribute to the puzzle about this tragic accident, but for a rare diamond that one of the passengers aboard the ship was wearing at a time it sank. The price of this diamond is estimated at hundreds of millions of US dollars. The reason for this is better explained through the study of Economics. Economics informs us that the scarcity of natural resources such as minerals is the reason they are expensive. This indicates to us that in a society where even nature itself can be privatised and commodified, these resources will only ever be available to the rich, who have a great supply of money that can be spent to satisfy their unlimited wants. In Azania, these are the people who have, for centuries, created their wealth through the dispossession of natives and whose children are today the beneficiaries of that legacy.
The next scene introduces us to Jack, a young Irish working-class man, who, along with his friend, wins tickets to board the TITANIC in a very lucky-handed game of poker at a joint of working-class toilers. This of course, is a fictitious expression of the real world, where upward mobility for the working-class is more often than not, a result of the intervention of chance. Every day in the townships of Azania, old men and women are subjected to playing what we call “MoChina” or “Fafi”, a game where the player must guess a number that will be drawn out of a container by (usually) Chinese game-fixers. If a number is guessed correctly by someone who bet, the Chinese game-fixers will pay out the money, depending on how much was put on the bet. The last time i played this game with my grandmother, we bet a number with 50cents and won approximately R14, 50. That was nearly 10 years ago, so i assume the prices are slightly different today. For the younger working-class population, intervention of chance comes through games like “MaDice” or “Morabaraba”. In the township of my birth, Soweto, women mostly play cards, “Dikarata”, a chance game like the poker that won Jack and his friend tickets to board the “unsinkable” ship.
The third scene introduces us to Rose, a young woman from the upper-class, who has boarded the TITANIC with her mother and her fiancé, a multi-millionaire named Carl, whom history would remember as a man scorned. Rose is a typical rich spoilt-brat that enjoys the benefits of her wealth, but is simultaneously held bondage by its constructs. In a world where money talks and all else walks, the 17 year old woman finds herself frustrated and trapped in a relationship that she does not want to be part of. This relationship, of course, is arranged by her mother, whose husband died and left little behind. Not wanting to find herself subjected to a life of toiling, she uses the only collateral that she has: her own daughter, Rose, who must bear the misery of being Carl’s wife so that she benefits materially. This reality is seen every day in our society, where young women are forced to sell their bodies for survival, and the more “sophisticated” ones resort to being pantypreneurs (women who sleep with rich BEE beneficiaries who provide them with a ticket to a life of luxury). Rose, feeling like she is in a defeated state, resolves to commit suicide. But as fate would have it, Jack sees her as she is about to hurl herself over the back of the ship into the freezing waters of the Pacific Ocean, and immediately rushes to save her from herself. This too, is an expression of reality. The working-class is permanently rescuing the rich from itself. For example, Black mothers, with no professional skills and academic qualifications, are reduced to being domestic workers in homes of the rich, maintaining those houses and babysitting the children of the rich who would otherwise have no-one to nurture their growth.
The forth scene captures the contrasts between the rich world and the poor world, showing us the vivid culture of crass materialism that is a norm in bourgeois society, and equally, the nervous conditions that are a definition of working-class reality. We see, for example, how the rich spend ridiculous amounts of money on art, as Rose does for her paintings. Sadly, as is the case with famous Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch, most of the people who labour to produce this art die paupers. (This is because of the evil that is called labour brokers, whom all of us have a responsibility to help COSATU to banish in occupied Azania). We also see how the rich are located at the top bunkers, where they are afforded tranquillity and ethereal views of the majestic ocean and starry skies. They sit there sipping on bottles of Dom Perignon and imported coffee, Earl Grey tea and juices made from organic fruits. Their beds are covered in silk linen, their rooms scented with ylang ylang and lavender fresheners as they walk on their Persian rugs. Donned in mink coats and tailor-made tuxedos, they dine at the finest of restaurants surrounded by the sounds of Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfang Mozart, luxuriating in the calmness of “Cosi fan tute” and “Torna di tito a lato”...
But at the bottom bunkers, where the third class citizens of the world are located, the conditions are far from habitable. There is a moria of rats and the beds are so close together those passengers can barely turn around without waking each other up with their jerking motions. Sadly, the people who make it possible for the rich to enjoy this luxury are beneath the ship toiling around the clock to keep the ship afloat. These working-class men cut coal with their bare hands and feed the boat with tons of it so that it can move smoothly. The same is true for the world. The working-class toils endlessly to produce goods and services that only benefits the rich. A vivid illustration is Nike. This brand has made a billionaire of its owner, but until recently, Nike used child labour in Kathmandu, Nepal, to make its products. Poor children of Asian peasants were subjected to working under extreme conditions to make shoes and soccer balls for a company whose net worth at the time, was over $100 000 000. These expensive Nike products would often be worn by children of the same rich company owners, with no care as to how they were manufactured.
In the fifth scene, we are shown how the TITANIC sank, taking with it more than 1000 people, most of them women and children. In the movie, when it becomes clear that the ship will sink, the brutality of stratification rears its ugly head. The rich, termed the “first class”, are the first to be allocated life-boats so that they can be taken to safety, while the “third class” that was located in the bunkers below are forced to wait...to wait for an absolution that will never come. We see women in rags, clutching their wailing babies to their chests, with frightened looks on their faces and haunted eyes that ask, “Where shall we go with our young ones?” Shockingly, most of these life-boats leave the sinking TITANIC with only 20 “first class” people, when, according to the engineers who built the ship, they have the capacity to carry over 70 people. The reason given as to why these life-boats leave so empty, is that, “We do not want the third class to sink them”, clearly indicating that poor people, by virtue of being onboard these boats, are bound to create another catastrophe. This particular scene hits me very hard, for it reminds me of a period that is very close to my heart, the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that saw the brutal slaying of more than 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu people in the north of Afrika, by Interahamwe militia. The role of the United Nations was identical to that of the guards onboard the TITANIC, who separated people on the basis of their class and social standing. The UN sent its peacekeepers into Rwanda to remove foreign (European and AmeriKKKan) nationals and have them flown back to their own countries. When all foreigners were out of Rwanda, the UN removed its peace envoy from the country, despite the growing number of attacks on Tutsis by the militia and rebel groups. Just as in Afrika our people were left to die as the whole world watched, the “third class” passengers onboard the TITANIC were left to die in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with the distant world oblivious to their blood-curling screams and haunting cries.
As the ship sinks, we see how even in times of crisis, the working-class is at all times playing the role of slaves to the rich. But more than this, we see how in a capitalist society, the stratification of humanbeings continues even in death, with the rich dying in their comfortable beds as Rose eventually does, and the poor dying in the process of saving the rich, as Jack does. Pointedly, Rose, who is an old woman when she recounts the story, confesses that “I have never told anyone this story before”. A man rescued her life, gave her a chance to live, but she never acknowledges is existence. This is true of the rich, whose wealth is created and maintained by the working-class, yet who never even acknowledge the working-class when they reap the rewards of that creation. Look at how the Trans-Atlantic slave trade created the wealth for the developed world, yet none thank Afrika for her toiling in cotton fields and sugar fields. Instead, she is perpetually raped condomless by these countries, impregnated with debt that she cannot pay.
The SABC 1 aired a documentary of Hani, but it was etv that infact, captured the very essence of what Hani’s life was dedicated to. Hani was dedicated to fighting what we saw on TITANIC tonight. He was fighting for an end to the oppression of those without ownership to means of production; for their dignity and for their right to life abundant. Today, as we face universities that continue to make it a Herculean task for children of working-class parents to receive an education, as we face former liberation movements that are determined to keep this country in chains by reversing the gains of the liberation struggle (minimal though they may be), may we not only remember the legacy that Hani left for us, may we also remember the road to Socialism will be paved by those who seek a world where a humanbeing is judged not by the amount of his bank balance, but by the height of his integrity. And with this in mind, may we remember to never forget the poignant Zambian proverb that says: “When you run alone, you run fast. When you run together, you run far”.
LONG LIVE THE MEMORY OF CHRIS HANI!
Malaika Lesego Samora Mahlatsi
Minister of Land Affairs 2033