Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Without the King

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: The Misadventures of Mswati in Swaziland

King Mswati III is a benevolent despot ruling the tiny African nation of Swaziland with a velvet-gloved iron fist. This last absolute monarch on the continent governs just about the only sub-Saharan country somehow untouched by civil war or ethnic cleansing over the last 30 years. In contrast to such war-torn lands as Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Sudan, Swaziland has enjoyed a relatively-peaceful existence.
This, despite the fact that its citizens have a 42% AIDS rate and the world’s lowest life expectancy at 31. Plus, most of the population has to survive on about 63 cents a day, and are thus very dependent on donations from international charities just to survive.
Meanwhile, the royal family lives in the lap of luxury, starting with the king. He has 14 wives, and picks another new one to add to his harem from the 75,000 topless young virgins participating in the annual Reed Dance, a weeklong celebration of chastity.
He also owns 7 palaces, a fleet of luxury cars, the media and sugar industries, and most of the developed real estate. Plus, he has $45 billion stashed away in a Swiss bank for safekeeping. Political parties are banned in Swaziland, so the miserable plight of the people isn’t about to change any time soon in the absence of a revolution.
Besides Mswati, the film focuses on the decadent behavior of his spoiled-rotten eldest child, an airhead attending college in California. Well aware of the exploitation of her father’s subjects, this future queen sarcastically appraises the situation shortly before the curtain comes down, vaguely promising to make some changes while rolling her eyes.
We’re supposed to buy the idea that the Swazis will be saved by Africa’s answer to Paris Hilton? Yeah, right. Proof-positive that despotism and decadence comes in all colors.

Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Siswati with subtitles.
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio: First Run Features

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