Last night, about halfway through The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency I realized that I had been tense since the program began. It only took me a moment to figure out why. I had been so looking forward to it, so hopeful for it. But I feared that I would be let down.
But what I suddenly felt at that moment was…relief.
Also, a sort of a feeling of revelation. It is actually possible to depict Black people (and, more specifically, Black African people) without having the required one good White person? Perhaps the White school teacher from Britain with a heart of gold…. Or a White American missionary who begins the tale with ambivalent feelings about the dark people but, through a series of heartwarming interactions and growth-inducing traumatic experiences, comes to terms with both his underlying racism against Blacks and his disappointment with his God…. Or a White female Australian there to save the apes from the ravages of a changing global ecosystem and the bias and ignorance of the natives who have lived amongst the apes for generations….
No? None of these obligatory White characters are present? Just Black Africans going about their daily business and lives? Africans who are proud of and happy in their country (Botswana, in this case) and are not looking to escape to somewhere else? Africans who have the capacity for tremendous good, tremendous bad, and all levels of complexity in between? Africans who face plagues and violence and the tug-of-war of the old and the new with bravery and grace?
The very notion of such a program appearing on my television set is almost too much to comprehend.
I will say that I liked the program. Loved it even. I am sure it is not perfect. I am not certain if the gay hairdresser will be treated with the humanity that will save his character from the perils of stereotype, for example. And of course, I wish that something of equal quality can be done with a book by a Black author. I sense that if I look carefully enough I will see clear signs of a “White gaze” in the depictions of this program–Africa and Africans as seen, still, by White men who, perhaps, have romantic ideas about the continent.
I will have to look at my recording of the program to assess any further nuances of my reaction. Again–the program was just so new that I could barely concentrate on anything other than my great relief and contentment.
I will also say that I loved Ms. Jill Scott. In this world of unworthy “artists” getting the fame and recognition that is more rightly due others, sometimes the fates get things right. And Jill Scott is one of those cases. She was stunning to look at and stunning to listen to. We were even treated to her amazing singing voice.
And the cinematography is like…visual poetry. Apparently the series is being shot on location in Botswana. It is rare that we get beautiful shots of an African landscape that are not immediately followed by a voice-over describing a migrating herd of some four-legged species of animal.
I see that Madonna is in the news again concerning her child and her wish to adopt another child from his country of birth. I suspect more people get their image of “Africa” through lenses such as this than will get it through the tale of Precious Ramotswe and her investigations.
But I can hope.