Latest News Editor's Choice

Opinion / Columnist

Thandiwe Newton: When little knowledge is dangerous

03 Feb 2022 at 05:33hrs | Views
This week, social media got a dose of some revolting diatribes from one Thandiwe Newton, a bygone era British actress whose desperation for relevance is forcing her to utter the most outrageous things about Zimbabwe.  

First, for those who may have missed the sordid drama, here is what happened.  

Last year, the British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival took a decision to exclude ‘President', a film on Nelson Chamisa by Camilla Nielsson.

Newton is a producer of the film, and she has been desperate to market it at every opportunity, as any producer does.  

The BFI's decision piqued Newton. In a rage, she told Variety magazine that her film was not considered because of political pressure from the Zimbabwean Government.   

"Every time it gets into another festival and wins another festival and then gets short-listed for the Oscars, I'm just thinking London Film Festival, ‘Where were you?'" Newton told Variety.

"And the reason they weren't there was because it was the week before (President) Mnangagwa went to Scotland with 100 delegates from Zimbabwe, invited by the United Kingdom. That wouldn't have been a great way to have him arrive the week before, right? That's why I think it wasn't screened."  

Of course, this was a far-fetched fantasy, a fact that BFI told her politely.  

"Our selection decisions, which are made three months in advance of the festival, are based on the merits of the film and whether it fits into the overall texture of the programme and not guided by external factors," the BFI said in a statement to Variety.  

Probably after some wise counsel from colleagues, Newton apologised to the BFI for the claim. But, in her apology, she laid bare her ignorance.  

"As a British Zimbabwean I'm devastated by the human rights abuses being suffered in our ex-colony. My upset was personal, and I was wrong to accuse. Thandiwe#LoveZimbabwe."  

Here was a person claiming to be Zimbabwean, but, at the same time, speaking from what she sees as the privileged perch of a colonial power talking down to a colony.  

Newton's mother is Zimbabwean and her father is British. She therefore believes her "hybrid identity" naturally endows her with some expertise on all things Zimbabwe, including refashioning herself as a human rights activist.  

Inevitably, many Zimbabweans were offended by Newton's reference to "our ex-colony" in her apology to BFI. She was reminded how the phrase depicted a condescending attitude of someone overly detached from the dynamics of a contemporary world which frowns upon colonialism or other forms of domination.  

Here was a half-Zimbabwean speaking with a tinge of nostalgia about "our ex-colony".  

In the year 2022, notx even the whitest and most conservative Briton refers to Zimbabwe as "our ex-colony".  

One may assume that Newton is knowledgeable about Zimbabwe's history and would be more nuanced in describing a country she claims to love so dearly.  

Clearly, it is a dangerous assumption. There is a deeper reading to be derived from such ignorance, as writer and international trade law and diplomacy expert, Petina Gappah, pointed out in a sharp rejoinder to Newton.  

Said Gappah: "I find Thandiwe Newton's posts on Zim histrionic to the point of being amusing but I've always thought it was part of her whole ‘actress luvvie' schtick. This though, referring to Zimbabwe as ‘our ex-colony' is not amusing at all but revealing of a deeper agenda."  

Gappah was not done yet. She says in another post that Newton's "ex-colony" reference says a lot, especially when one defines "an independent country based on artificial borders carved around a table on Friedrickstrasse in Berlin by Bismarck and Co in 1870 chekuti."  

Did Newton apologise? No, she saw nothing wrong. Instead, she posted: "I apologise to any Zimbabweans who feel my actions are political. They are about human rights across the world, of which I have a 20-year career. Zimbabwe is my Mother's birth place, and to see her weep for her country, hurts my heart too."  

Yet, nobody had been outraged by her claimed activism, to which she is entitled. The issue had been her borrowed colonial hangover. Yet, in her pseudo-apology, she showed that this did not even register in her mind.

Analysing Newton's infamous outburst, one comes to the conclusion; little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It is especially dangerous for an unrooted person, particularly one who thinks has some expertise in an area which she has scant information about.  

First, she has obviously no knowledge of how statecraft functions. That is why she found it reasonable to blame the British government for the exclusion of her documentary by the BFI.

If she had even basic knowledge about how diplomacy works, she would have never thought it plausible that the Zimbabwe Government had any hand – or any interest – in what goes on at a British film festival, let alone have the time to tell BFI what films to show.  

Second, Newton's lack of knowledge is in her sense of entitlement and condescending attitude towards Zimbabwe and its people.

Her attitude is synonymous with one sneering at Africa or Zimbabwe with a colonial gaze, unconscious of its implications.  

The colonial gaze is common in Western films. Copious material explaining the colonial gaze is a Google search away.

The IGI Global Publisher of Timely Knowledge summarises it as the way in which the colonial agenda seeks to maintain and legitimate power by determining colonial realities, including the dehumanisation of colonial subjects and the perpetual separation of the "us" (colonisers, civilised) and "other" (colonised, savage).  

Maybe we are unfair on Newton. Perhaps she is genuinely ignorant about what is at play. For all we know, her naiveté could be because of colonial brainwashing.  

If she knew the physical and mental genocide caused by colonialism in Africa, she surely would have been more circumspect and not have referred to Zimbabwe as "our ex-colony", as if it's some kind of badge of honour.

Source - The Herald
All articles and letters published on Bulawayo24 have been independently written by members of Bulawayo24's community. The views of users published on Bulawayo24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Bulawayo24. Bulawayo24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.