The Gods Must be Crazy (review)

I saw the South African film the Gods Must Be Crazy that I downloaded nearly a month ago earlier this afternoon.  I had seen the sequel The Gods Must be Crazy II and the "unofficial" Chinese sequals when I was younger and now I finally get the see the movie that started it all.

The Gods Must Be Crazy is a movie released in 1980, written and directed by Jamie Uys. Set in Botswana, it tells the story of Xi (pronounced 'Gee' with a hard 'G'), a Bushman of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian bush farmer Nǃxau) whose tribe has no contact or knowledge of the world beyond

The first two films both present the Bushmen as noble savages leading a simple, fairly utopian life in contrast with western culture. There are several slapstick situations, accentuated by the use of fast motion.

These films, and the songs of Miriam Makeba, are probably the only exposure to a click consonant language for most people living outside of southwest Africa. Coca-cola bottle thrown from a passing light aircraft represents the only exposure that the bushmen have with western culture, reminiscent of so-called New Guinean 'Cargo Cults'. Conversely, the arrival of a

While a large Western white audience found the films funny, there was some considerable debate about its racial politics. The portrayal of Xi (particularly in the first film) as the naive innocent incapable of understanding the ways of the "gods" was viewed by some as patronising and insulting. The film was banned in Trinidad and Tobago for this reason. However, its many fans believe that it is exactly the opposite, a send-up of so-called civilization and condemnation of racism with Xi as the hero.

Some of the debate centered on Xi's reaction to the first white people he met, assuming they were gods since they were strange (he had only known Bushmen before), rode vehicles (which he also had never seen before), and were comparatively huge. However, within minutes he began doubting they were gods. The second film clearly shows Xi's greater understanding as he tells the children about the people he had met: "heavy people … who seem to know some magic that can make things move," but are "not very bright, because they can't survive without their magic contrivances."

It should also be noted that the films' depictions of the Bushmen, even if they were accurate in the 1980s (also a source of debate), are clearly no longer accurate.The film was a combination of three subplots: a Bushman's journey to destroy a Coke bottle that led to cultural contamination in his family/tribe, a romance between two White South Africans and Rebels on the run.  The Bushman's story shows that his tribe was living off the land and living in relative peace because there was no conflict, greed or tension until a Coke bottle fell out of the sky.  At first the tribe saw the bottle as a useful tool that made their lives easier but it was later called the "Evil Thing" when it caused conflicts because tribe members were unable to share and because they learned how to weaponise it.  The rest of the subplots are used to juxtapose the Bushman's values with those of the "civilised" world and how he was able to make a difference in their world without compromising his values.  The films ends with the Bushman throwing away the money he earned from the White characters and destroying the Coke bottle by throwing off a cliff called God's Window in Eastern South Africa. 

It was quite interesting how this movie shows that Black and White South Africans were working and living peacefully alongside each other in the late 70s when it was not the case in real life.  From what I have read or remembered, there were periodic harassment by the predominantly White South African Army, who would sometimes go terrorise Black Africans in their homelands (Poor Ghettos) and the lack of opportunities for non-whites due to Apartheid being in effect during that period.  It seems like this film what was the writers and director wanted South Africa to become or for the world to see.  Fortunately, thanks to Nelson Mandela and other moral supporters, the South Africa of today is the realisation of that view presented in the Gods must be crazy.  Another point the film makes was how Western cultural imperialism and cultural contamination have ruined the African people and culture as exemplified by the Bushman's exposure to the Coke Bottle, the communist guerrillas who attempted to destabilise a government early in the movie, the face that the present-day nations do not reflect the original boundaries of the various African ethnic groups and the African's use of European-based institutions and laws. 

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