One is never at peace with oneself when in the midst of an identity crisis. The internal tug-of-war that transpires between opposing elements vying for some kind of superior legitimacy is recipe for dis-ease. In many ways, Sudan’s north and south offer symptoms to this malady, a rather common ailment in Africa.
Beats of the Antonov opens up with a wide shot of a sky with a solitary airplane cutting forbodingly through cirrus clouds. People on the ground scramble for shelter when they see it. “The plane is coming! The Antonov! It’s here!” A thunderous explosion soon follows as people climb into trenches serving as protection from the sky-borne destruction. When they eventually emerge from their hiding places, off-camera, children are laughing. Unable to contain their relief from having lived through yet another Sudan-sanctioned bombing, they indulge themselves in hysterics. Just an ordinary day in the lives of the people of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.
“The laughter is always there. People laugh despite the catastrophe because they realise they are not hurt. Laughter is like a new birth,”
Since independence in 1956, Sudan has been engaged in constant civil war. 55 years later, the people of Sudan voted for a secession from Sudan under the leadership of the Sudan people’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The people of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, however, remained in the north in spite of the fact that they had fought for their rights alongside the south. A few months after the separation, SPLA rebels from the region entered into a new war waged by President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP).
Between the sporadic Antonov bombings, the local communities eke out a basic existence under UNHCR-supplied tents but hold fast to their way of life, preserving their culture. An intrinsic part of this preservation is their music and their dancing.
The film presents the root cause of the conflict in the region as being al-Bashir’s denial of his blackness and identification with Arabness. This denial also manifests itself in his government’s savage Islamification and attempted erasure of all things ‘African’.
The documentary is one that every African should see. Not just because it has scooped Best Documentary awards in prestigious festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival, Cordoba African Film Festival and the Durban International Film Festival. While being one part ethnomusicological look at the resilient cultures of the region, it also reignites the debate about South Africa’s decision to let President al-Bashir slip out of the country, away from the clutches of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after his attendance of the AU Summit held in Johannesburg this past June. The ICC often comes under criticism for unfairly and consistently targeting African leaders. But, the documentary sheds another light into just one aspect of the atrocities of which President al-Bashir is accused.
While the move by SA can be seen as a nod towards solidarity and Pan-Africanism, questions about the validity of the accusations against al-Bashitr have perhaps not been voiced enough from within the continent. This picture raises those questions without losing focus on the optimism amidst anxiety felt by the oppressed people of the region. Beats of the Antonov is a metaphor of the injustices, the cultural imposition Africa has been faced with over the past several centuries. It is a story of Africans steadfastly holding on to and celebrating who they are while staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.
The film premieres on the PBS POV series tonight (August 3) at 22h00 ET/tomorrow (August 4) 04h00 CAT and will be available to stream online from August 4 to September 3.
All images courtesy of Refugee Club and Big World Cinema