Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

08 June 2007

Authenticity as Hostage to Expectation

I've seen two strong and sticky-in-the-mind Filipino movies the past few months: The Debt Collector and The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (which coincidentally is showing at the ICA just until 20 June, catch it if you can!).

Watching them, as I did, in London, far far away from the land of their inception produced some uncomfortable realities.

Did I really want the rest of the world to see the grinding, smelly canal poverty in which these films were set?

Some of my Filipino friends were downright upset. One, a film-maker based in London, said, "There is a huge selection of Filipino movies, why do the gatekeepers of the London Film Festival only support the films that portray the awful poverty in the Philippines?"*

Interestingly, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who just won the Orange Prize for her book Half of a Yellow Sun, expresses the same sentiment (albeit from an African point of view):

Half a Yellow Sun"We have a long history of Africa being seen in ways that are not very complimentary, and in America [where she has been studying for the past 10 years] being seen as an African writer comes with baggage that we don't necessarily care for.

Americans think African writers will write about the exotic, about wildlife, poverty, maybe Aids. They come to Africa and African books with certain expectations.

I was told by a professor at Johns Hopkins University that he didn't believe my first book [Purple Hibiscus, published in 2003] because it was too familiar to him. In other words, I was writing about middle-class Africans who had cars and who weren't starving to death, and therefore to him it wasn't authentically African."

Madonna's not our saviour by Stephen Moss, The Guardian

Adichie by Martin Godwin

She is right. Authenticity, unfortunately, is a hostage to the expectations of the (Western) beholder.

I am currently working on a novel set in a dystopia modelled on the Philippine capital of Manila, for the moment titled Ugly City, a world populated by a range of characters - educated, uneducated, English speaking, familiar with third world poverty and yet well-versed in The Simpsons. In constructing this world I find myself editing the reality to fit reader expectations .

I salute Adichie — only 29 years old and walking the walk I'd love to walk. More than just winning the Orange Broadband Prize she paints a world of people — individual, complex and real — and not just the mass of suffering dark faces so ubiquitous on the television screens on this side of the world.


*I agree to a certain extent that the West tends to open doors to developing world art and literature that conform to expectation. However I think The Debt Collector and The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros were chosen for being damn good stories.