Just discovered this visionary movie from 1990. A five-year drought has brought people in North-East Africa to starvation, leaving them with the choice of death or Europe. When Irish EU Commissioner for International Development, “Clare Fitzgerald” (Juliet Stevenson) meets their leader “Isa el-Mahdi” (Malick Bowens), he tells her that it takes 50 dollars a year to keep one of them alive. “I have heard that you in Europe spend 200 dollars to feed your cats. Let us come to your homes and be your cats. It will be cheaper.” His message is as simple as it is powerful:
We are poor because you are rich.
As they march across Libyia and Algeria to Morocco, their numbers grow to a quarter of a million. Meanwhile, the Commissioner does all she can to find solutions: letting a limited number of them into Europe as a steam valve, a Marshall Plan for Africa. But the walls of ‘Fortress Europe’ are already in place in the heads of European politicians. At the same time the Afroamerican US presidential candidate Marcus Brown (Joseph Mydell) tries to radicalise the marchers and stages them for TV to utilize them for his campaign.
At the end of the movie, the marchers set accross the Strait of Gibraltar in hundreds of small boats, landing on a tourist beach in Spain where they are met by armed military. 25 years later, El-Mahdi’s words are more powerful than ever:
We believe that when you see us before you, you will not let us die. That is why we come to Europe. If you will not help us, there is nothing more we can do. We will die, and you will watch us die, and may God have mercy on us all.
When “The March” was first shown on German television in May 1990, it was followed by a discussion in which the movie was critized for being too pessimistic. Even though the news immediately before the sceening had reported on yet another boat with 300 African refugees arriving in Italy that day. For the link to Ghandi’s 1930 “Salt March” to protest British colonial rule in India, for the contrast to Jean Raspail’s dystopian 1973 French novel “The Camp of the Saints” and for an optimistic view of where Europe stands today, see the blog post va Laurence Jarvik (20.11.2015).