I watched this movie in my Indigenous People in Film class. My initial reaction to “The Gods Must Be Crazy” was that it is hilarious slapstick movie. The patronizing comments about the “Bushman” being dainty and never to have known anger or ownership, the bugged eye from the African actors, and the damsel in distress were ridiculously over the top, and made me chuckle a little more than my peers. However, upon further analysis I believe there are two ways this movie can be viewed. It can either be seen as a mockery towards Xi’s lack of the “civilized” world or it can display Xi being the “civilized” one.
The movie begins when a coke glass bottle falls into the Kalahari Desert and the Bushman; Xi finds it and takes it to his village. His clan uses the bottle as a tool in many ways, but they eventually become envious towards the person that has it, so Xi sets out to take it to the end of the world. When the narrator suggests that they have never felt negative emotions before, I called bull crap. Anger, hate, and jealousy are basic human emotions that everyone is bound to experience at some point in their lives no matter what culture they come from.
Once they find the bottle the jealousy leads to violent behavior. It is said that the “Bushmen” do not have any crime or violence; therefore they do not have laws. Every culture has some type of law; it just may not be the same as we see in our own society. For example, punishment may be in a form of isolation, but not necessarily in a prison.
Meanwhile, 600 miles south from the Kalahari Desert is the city where “civilized” people are. Here we meet Kate, a Caucasian journalist. Her office is integrated and her assistant was a black man, which I found interesting because the film was made in 1984. In 1984 I believe that South Africa still had the apartheid in affect. Another moment I found interesting was when he told Kate that Botswana were looking for any teachers that could read and write in the Kalahari. Kate accepts the job. Just because a person can read and write does not make them a qualified teacher.
Her character throughout the movie demonstrates so many stereotypes towards women. For example, she packs her suitcase full of dresses and heels knowing she is going to be teaching in the desert. When the jeep gets stuck in the river, of course she has to be carried, because getting her delicate feet wet is too much to endure. She seems to be incapable to do anything without the help of biology, Steyn. Her character constantly made me roll my eyes.
Steyn’s character is refreshing in some way. He studies elephant manure for a living, is awkward around women, but yet very kind. He has an assistant as well named, M’pudi, who gives us an inside view to Steyn’s world. He also “repairs” Steyn’s jeep very often. He gives Steyn advice about women and life. Steyn develops a crush on Kate on their route to Botswana. When they become stranded he appears to be very knowledgeable about his surroundings, but it shows in outlandish situations. Kate always assumes Steyn is hitting on her due to these situations. Unfortunately, for Steyn, Kate prefers Jake, a manly-man safari tour guide.
Xi gets closer to the city and runs into some trouble. Since he does not know what “ownership” is, he is unaware that he is hunting someone’s cattle. I am pretty sure he does know what ownership means. He owns the place he sleeps in, even though he may share it. The owner of the cattle attacks him and gets him arrested. Seeing him enter the courtroom smiling at others but not receiving any back was really sad. He seemed so innocent. This reflected how the narrator spoke of him in a childlike manner at the beginning. When he gives his testimony it is translated by M’pudi who alters what Xi says so he is innocent. Xi is sentenced to 3 months and then released to work for Steyn as a tracker.
When Xi met Kate and Steyn earlier in the movie he thought they were the “Gods” and tried to return the bottle to them. He also thought they were ugly and speaks like monkeys. This is the result when people think in an ethnocentric manner. Xi thinks they speak like monkey while the narrator said that Xi’s language is unsynchronized.
There is another story building in the movie as well. It involves a guerrilla group made of “Bushmen” and the leader is a white guy who looks Cuban. I saw the most racism between the rebels and their leader. The rebels spoke with bugged eyes that reminded me of blackface. They are seen as incompetent without their leaders help. This reminded me of Kate. Even though it was racist it somehow made me giggle at how theatrical they were. My favorite part in the movie is the dramatic slow-motion shooting scene that takes place in the mayor’s office.
This movie was very good at making my emotions go up and down. One moment I was bothered the next I was sad. I believe this movie does a good job at slapstick and gaining sympathy for the “little guy”. Although, it is important to realize that Xi is being patronized and most likely knows way more about other cultures than the movie portrays. Primitive people are not unintelligent they are just respectively different than those of us that live in colonized areas.