Saturday, December 09, 2006


I read a review of Blood Diamond that criticizedthes director's decision to make a white man the protagonist, telling the story of the war in Sierra Leone, the bloody truth about diamonds, and the chaos across so much of Africa from the point of view of a white guy. I understand the objection to making a movie "more accessible" to its consumers, pandering to them by giving them a character they might "relate to" more easily.

On the other hand, don't we all do that anyway, imagine ourselves in the role of the protagonist, come at the story from our own set of experiences?

Last week my friend asked me, "Hey, did you hear about the family that's missing, who was last seen in Roseburg?"

Their story has nothing to do with me. But--the Denny's where they stopped the last night before their ordeal began? That's the Denny's down the street from Roseburg High School. Half of the times I went home during college, I ended up at that Denny's for no other reason than it was open later than anywhere else in town.

Then I found out the Kim family meant to take Highway 42 over to the coast; it was missing their exit for that highway that caused them to pick a different route off the map. The missed exit 119, to be precise: the Winston/Dillard exit. I grew up just off of Highway 42, not far from Winston.

I grew up surrounded by a maze of back roads similar to the one that caused such a tragic outcome for the Kims.* A few were gated, but I remember my dad driving us up behind my grandma's house to look down at Camas Valley from atop one of the hills. Winding up the labyrinth of gravelled roads, we only had to pass a few unmarked junctions before I had no idea which way would take us back down to Grandma's and which would take us deeper into the woods. (Or the clearcuts, more likely.) A few years later we would drive up there to halfheartedly go hunting, or at least wander around looking for deer, and I felt the same disorientation. I knew basically which direction the coast was, and which direction Roseburg was--but if I'd been separated from my family and lost, I would have been shit outta luck trying to figure out exactly how to get back, even if I'd stayed on the roads.

My heart would go out to the Kim family no matter what. It's even more wrenched by the fact that their ordeal took place in a setting so familiar to me. I am so sorry that an area that holds such nostalgia and beauty for me will be the location of their deepest grief forever.

The Kim family's story has little to do with me; I am not even a bit player. But their proximity to my familiar places makes me feel more personally wrenched by it than I might have otherwise. Maybe that makes me a truly selfish person. Or maybe it doesn't--I'm probably not the best person to make that decision.

Likewise, maybe Leonardo DiCaprio's starring role in Blood Diamonds will make the rest of the story a bit more real for some audiences than it would have otherwise been. Even if that is self-centered of them, maybe it will be offset by the additional "oomph" to their gut as they become more aware of the tragic reality of conflict diamonds, or child soldiers, or African turmoil--especially if that oomph leads to an action that would have been absent without it.

Personally, I plan to put together basic survival car kits for a few people's gifts this year. Something along the lines of what's listed here at Jim Macdonald's page. It won't bring back James Kim, and it won't help his family in their terrible loss. But it might prevent someone I love from having a similar experience.

*Recent news articles have made much of the fact that "vandals" cut the lock on the gate that should have been blocking the road the Kims ended up on. It's been ten years since I lived there, but I'll bet you a twenty that the "vandalism" was done by hunters a couple of months ago.