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Evelyn Waugh would have a field day with what’s happening in Ethiopia right now. The talented author of Brideshead Revisited and Scoop was a racist little creep sent out by a rightwing, pro-Fascist newspaper in 1935 to cover Mussolini’s invasion. Just to give you an idea of the man, he wrote home to a friend, “I have got to hate the ethiopians more each day goodness they are lousy & i hope the organmen gas them to buggery [sic].”

Then as now, the government in Addis Ababa didn’t want the horror or embarrassment of a foreign correspondent getting killed at the front, so it kept reporters bottled up in the capital. But while the concern for safety is admirable, in the absence of facts, reporters and “analysts” will let their imaginations roam. They’ll often perform alchemy on rumors and turn them into substance, and they’ll speculate their way into doomsday and all of Africa on fire. …

Ask folks who were there in the 1970s and managed to survive the ordeal about the Derg. Ask them about the horrible misery caused by a cult of Marxist psychopaths, the slaughter of innocents and the rapes committed. A British ambassador to Ethiopia was once asked who introduced Communism into Ethiopia, whether it was Chinese or Russian agents. “There was no need,” he replied. “The revolution was largely brought about by British and American Communist school teachers and university lecturers.”

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It makes sense. It’s hard to convey just how powerful an influence Western teachers can have in the developing world, even to this day, and these individuals no doubt got a big ego boost from their idolizing students hanging on their every word in the 1950s and Sixties. Of course, a people must ultimately search themselves over how they’ve earned or been stuck with the government they have. …

If you want to know the history of modern journalism in Africa, it starts with “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” A news article about one white guy going off to find another white guy, a missionary, in what today is Tanzania. In the newspaper account, the Africans were pretty much scenery.

The situation did not get better with time. The correspondents who showed up to cover Ethiopia’s confrontation with Italy in 1935 were disappointed when talks at the League of Nations dragged on and the shooting wouldn’t start. They were pissed off that there was no spectacle, so most of them left. …

People have sent me the clips and ask me about the video in Seattle, showing the clash between Diaspora protesters for Oromo nationalism versus those who still believe in a united Ethiopia. Jeez, as if I have answers.

No, I won’t link it here. It’s ugly, uglier than the video of the clash in Calgary. If you’re going to ask me, okay, I’ll give you my thoughts, but you may not like them.

First: the labeling. It is incredibly counter-productive and dangerous to label the protesters, even those in this incident as Islamist. Yeah, yeah, yeah — please save it. I realize the context. …

So a while before I wrote this, BBC World just gave maybe five to seven minutes to the 166 reported dead so far from the violent protests. A smart, young Ethiopian reporter, Zecharias Zelalem, presented the facts without bias and as candidly as possible, pointing out that free and open journalism isn’t being allowed to operate in the country. He did his best. And because it’s damn television, of course, there was no effort on the producers’ part to ask him proper follow-up questions and get to any depth. The whole segment ended on an easy throwaway of “ethnic violence.” Terrific. …

The Amateurs Portraying Themselves as Publishing Sages

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Jeff Pearce (bald guy) responding to an audience question and blathering on, seated with the University of Toronto Theatre Erindale’s cast of the 2015 adaptation of How to Make Love in a Canoe: Sex in Canada

A few years ago, when it looked like I might get some mild career traction in terms of screenwriting, I managed to have a phone conversation with a large literary agency in Toronto. As a prospective agent chirped all kinds of advice for me (but I hadn’t signed with her yet), she urged me to go out and get books by Syd Field.

And then my heart sank, and I knew I could never have this person as my agent. Because it was clear she didn’t know a goddamn thing about writing and quite possibly the movie business.

For those who don’t know, Syd Field was an enormously successful con artist in Hollywood. Because studio executives gambled with enormous amounts of money on films that are never guaranteed to be successful, they bought his bullshit about having a turning point in the plot exactly on page 60 or so, because then they had something they thought was quantifiable. Oh, this script doesn’t have the inciting incident on page X? Toss it out. …

Part Two

Okay, you might ask, it’s easy enough to bash Red Sea Diving Resort for its cultural deafness and white savior tropes, but what do you got instead? Well, any of you who have read my posts before probably know I have worked with others over the past couple of years to try to get Prevail adapted into a documentary and one day, a feature film.

For those of you who don’t know Prevail, you can buy the book here. Very quickly: in 1935, Ethiopia had to defend itself with spears and antique rifles against a modern invasion by Fascist Italy, all while the League of Nations hemmed and hawed, and Britain and France in particular sold out their African ally. The Fascists bombed hospitals, used poison gas, slaughtered thousands and occupied almost half the country for five years. …

Just to be clear, there are two parts to this column, and hopefully you’ll want to jump to the next section after reading this one.

Part One

With all the recurring talk of “Oscars So White” and the racist lunacy over a black Little Mermaid, many folks have missed Hollywood’s newest trick: Make a movie about Africa… with virtually no Africans in it.

It’s The Red Sea Diving Resort. I just wasted two hours of my life watching it, so you wouldn’t have to. The hook of the movie is that it’s “inspired” by the true story of how Mossad agents operated a phony hotel on the coast of Sudan as a cover for rescuing scores of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s, resettling them in Israel. Israel made headlines around the world decades ago when it airlifted many Ethiopian Jews to safety. …

An Excerpt from the novel, THE NEW BOHEMIANS

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It’s the 1980s, an era of smart suits and saxophones. Typewriters are plentiful, David Bowie and Prince are at the heights of their stardom, and the decade’s hottest place for music, fashion and politics is London. It’s here that a group of expats from North America found a magazine they hope can rival Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair and try to build their dreams into reality.

THE NEW BOHEMIANS is a story about an era that was more vibrant, more complicated and more exciting than today’s nostalgic references. By turns lyrical and comic, it’s a love letter to the writers and artists who are the also-rans, the ones who don’t get movies made out of their lives or who have courses taught on their forgotten works. …

An Excerpt from the novel, THE NEW BOHEMIANS

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It’s the 1980s, an era of smart suits and saxophones. Typewriters are plentiful, David Bowie and Prince are at the heights of their stardom, and the decade’s hottest place for music, fashion and politics is London. It’s here that a group of expats from North America try to build their dreams into reality.

Calvin Trent wants to found a magazine that can rival Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, and he just might pull it off. Their British friend, Jeremy, tries to duck the racism of cops patrolling the Brixton neighbourhood and be the voice of sensible business values behind the others’ grand design. Beth, a quirky, talented musician and photographer is trying to get over her past creative failures, but she just may escape her depression in the arms of Ram Talbott. …


Jeff Pearce

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.

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