Bling: A Planet Rock

Bling: A Planet Rock

2007, USA, 90 mins..
Director: Raquel Cepeda
Producers: VH1 Rock Docs, Article 19 Films, and the United Nations Development Programme

Rappers and hip hop artists of all sorts love to wear it and even most people like to hear the sound of the word: bling! But after ninety minutes of associating diamonds with the murdered and the maimed of Sierra Leone, site of some of the world’s best diamond fields and the bloodiest, mostly criminal war to control its supply, most viewers will agree with rapper Raekwon who remarks–after viewing too many amputees, most of them children–just let me stay on the bus, I don’t want to see any more.

This is an ambitious film that packages well-known artists who join a crusade to question the value of bling: Raekwon and Paul Wall, both of the Wu-Tang Clan, Latin reggaeton star, Tego Calderon, and singer Kanye West, who doesn’t actually get on the bus but who promotes his own vocal attack on the war (see “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”), as well as a number of rappers from Sierra Leone itself. The stars tour the country, stopping at a hospital for amputees and a legitimate diamond mine. In addition, the crew also learned about the three different initiatives to purge the country of its “blood diamonds,” promote a living wage for the workers, and try to police the incredibly lucrative international trade in the gems. Two of the initiatives are industry based (the Kimberly Process which registers all diamonds mined legally, and the Diamonds Development Initiative, formed by Partnership Africa, Global Witness, and the De Beers mining company) and one is from the United Nations D4D, Diamonds for Development, that attempts to support local and small firms and individuals)

All of these initiatives are controversial, with the biggest problem (not surprisingly) is that the most powerful mine owners have a lot of power both in and outside the country and tend to get their way. The film, however, pulls few punches: we actually see the maimed children that West sings of: “I though my Jesus piece was harmless / Till I saw a picture of a shorty armless” (“Diamonds from Sierra Leone”).

The eleven year civil war in Sierra Leone began actively in 1991 under the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under Foday Sanko, but clearly supported by neighboring Liberian (former) dictator Charles Taylor. Open pit diamond mines were staffed by prisoners or indentured laborers, often just children.

Whenever the James Bond-associated song, “Diamonds Are Forever,” comes on the sound-track, most viewers will already begin to cringe. Boy soldiers don’t even wear plain dog tags much less the $250K ones for sale to star rappers.

These rappers at least know their cinematic history: one of them cites their collective admiration for pimp style and references the classics of 1970s blaxpoitation cinema–“The Mack,” ” Willie Dynamite,” and “Super Fly.”

What seems like a whimsical sign at the airport becomes all too clear in the end: “Welcome to Sierra Leone. If you cannot help us, please do not corrupt us.”

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NGNbC4bons (excerpt)

Santora, Marc. “Hollywood’s Multifaceted Cause du Jour.” New York Times, 3 Dec. 2006. Reviews the “conflict diamond” films and introduces the Refugee All-Stars, musician refugees from Sierra Leone.

Campbell, Greg. “Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones.” Westview Press, 2002. The writer travels every mile of the scary process from mining to cross-border sales.

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