Last week the much anticipated premiere of the Queen of Katwe happened in Kampala. This event would have gone largely unnoticed had it not been for journalist Timothy Kalyegira’s scathing remarks about the event and the 20 minutes of the two hour film he watched.
His comments kicked up a firestorm on social media – and not much elsewhere. The few of us on social media when we lurch onto one cause or another tend to believe the whole country, even the world, is paying attention. The truth is that more Ugandans were engrossed in the Kampala Carnival than the rantings of one film critic and his haters.
Let me first say that as of writing this column I had not watched the film so I have no insights to share about it. And I will not try.
However, going by the general plot – girl rises from dirty poverty to the brink of world domination, it is a good film for Uganda to be associated with. Better than the one’s about our dark past --“The Last King of Scotland” or “The Raid on Entebbe”. The overriding theme in this new film set in our country seems to be one of hope. That born in the direst of circumstances one can rise above the hardship and gain world attention for a positive achievement.
But what was real interesting about the social media fire fight was that every so often one person or another would accuse Kalyegira of not being patriotic. That his criticism was uncalled for given that Hollywood has made a film about Uganda to celebrate one of our own.
"It is a thing we human beings do, to close or “win” arguments we are disturbed by, uncomfortable with, we evoke a higher authority. Daddy said or things are not done like that or this or that holy book says such, such and the other. More often than not the authorities we quote, on closer scrutiny, did not mean what we claim they did, but it is convenient for us to quote them if only to shut up the other party and have our way....
Who is a patriot? To simplify, a patriot is one who loves his country and wants the best for it. As a opposed to a nationalist, one who believes his country can do no wrong. You might think the distinction is small but it is very pronounced.
Whereas patriotism can be exercised by everybody, every time, nationalism is most strongly felt by the people with a vested interest in the ruling elite of the time.
The Queen of Katwe gives us a nice neutral subject around which we can explore this question.
Going by our above definition it is patriotic to support a film that portrays Uganda in a positive light but it is also patriotic to demand that the film be made to a higher standard. It would nationalistic to deny any poor representation of Uganda in the film – the slums, the unsophistication of the plot or the actors, but it would also be nationalistic to adopt Phiona Mutesi’s rise to prominence as a result of Uganda’s improved general environment.
The point is using the words interchangeably is the source of much confusion and unnecessary hostility, and we are not just talking about The Queen of Katwe.
"Criticism of the way things are is the patriotic duty of all citizens, when you see something wrong, diminishing the country you love, you should bring it to someone’s attention. To be nationalistic and deny anything is wrong only plays into the hands of those benefiting from the status quo....
Of course how you express that displeasure could very well make the difference between whether people take notice and do something about it or rubbish you as a heckler and ignore you all together. In effect throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
So yes the critics of The Queen of Katwe, as with everything in Uganda, can be accused of being insensitive and even ignorant but being unpatriotic should not be one of the charges levelled against them.