I don’t watch reality television or documentaries. You might think this is some high moral standard (at least in the case of reality tv), but the truth of the matter is much simpler – my ADD makes watching these sort of shows/films agonizingly painful. I much prefer reading about history / contemporary issues / science / etc. than watching a documentary on the topic…and reality tv, well…I find it generally uninteresting.
But that didn’t keep me from watching The Ambassador, a controversial 97 minute documentary by Mads Brugger. Brugger is a journalist, comedian, filmmaker who goes undercover as a corrupt business diplomat to the Central African Republic in an attempt to start an illegal blood diamonds business. Along the way he risks his life (and, most disconcertingly to me, the lives of numerous individuals of varying levels of innocence) and discloses troubling corruption, conspiracy, and immorality among various governments.
I’d put this film alongside of Slumdog Millionaire and Hotel Rwanda for its potential to have a positive societal impact, while at the same time expressing my qualms about the methods used to make the film, especially those which placed [unaware] innocents at risk.
In the articles I read reviewing the film the greatest concern seemed to be the racism expressed by Brugger in character and the negative portrayal of the Central African Republic and its people. I understand the reviewers concern, but also felt that it was self-evident that Brunner was interacting with the criminal elements of society and that his interactions with these elements should not be taken as reflective upon the larger CAR populace. While we only see ‘regular’ CAR folks briefly, their portrayal is compassionate and inspiring – folks seem eager to work at Brunner’s match factory and are willing to better themselves and their country. One feels heartbreak at the conspiracy of factors that keep these folks in such mortal and economic danger. It seems evident to me that these individuals are just like me – but without the opportunities and privileges which I have.
From a more generic [usual categories] objectionable content perspective, there is no violence, relatively little profanity, and minimal non-sexual nudity. Profanity is almost entirely absent throughout the film (in fact, you will find more profanity in the reviews I have referenced at the end of this article than in the film itself…an interesting commentary on the state of profane language in contemporary culture [most of the publications being respectable, not simply individuals spouting thoughts without a corporation behind them]), but towards the latter end of the film several intense moments lead to some profane dialogue.
There is some very brief, non-sexual nudity, of the nature one might expect in a National Geographic documentary. While boating down the river the camera turns to the shore where groups of people are using the water for various purposes (washing, swimming) and one or two are in various states of undress.
In conclusion – I think the film asks some excellent questions, in spite of its troubling ethics – and I hope that it will spark dialogue, awareness, and activism throughout the world to end these sort of abuses. God forgive us for allowing such travesties to be committed against the unfortunate.
- Official Site for The Ambassador Film.
- Karina Longworth. The Ambassador Review: Mads Brugger is the Sacha Baron Cohen of Denmark. LA Weekly, Aug. 30, 2012.
- A.O. Scott. More Like An Impostor Than An Innocent Abroad. NY Times. Aug. 28, 2012.
- Aron Leaf. The Ambassador: Mads Brugger Uncovers Liberia’s Elite Corruption. African Arguments (Royal African Society). Aug. 31st, 2012.
- Michael Hogan. Mads Brugger, “The Ambassador” Director, Takes Exploitation to a Whole New Level. Huffington Post, Aug. 29, 2012.
- Eric Kohn. Does Mads Brugger’s Satiric ‘The Ambassador’ Go Too Far? IndieWire, Aug. 27, 2012.
- Leslie Felperin. The Ambassador. Variety, Nov. 21, 2011.
- Andrew O’Hehir. “The Ambassador”: A Borat-Style Quest for Blood Diamonds. Salon, Aug. 28, 2012.