Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Africa: Jack Abramoff - The Savimbi Years

Those who've caught the trailer for Alex Gibney's new documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money, about the rise and fall of Washington super lobbyist Jack Abramoff, will no doubt have caught the footage of what looks like the Jamboree in Jamba...



...a 1985 get together organized by Abramoff and hosted by UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi , who, even though he was said to be a Marxist, was fighting the pro-Soviet MPLA and was a hero for American conservatives. Other anti-Communist militants there were Nicaruguan Contras, South African Security Forces and the Afghan Mujaheddin.

Looking back at Cold War logic and alliances, you just can't help gasping, "WTF!"

But, apparently, Abramoff's anti-commie love for Savimbi did not stop there. We never knew the Dolph--"the Swede"--Lundgren's character in the cold war action clunker, Red Scorpion (1989), was also inspired by Savimbi:



The whole Abramoff-Savimbi-Hollywood triangle must have been such a head scratcher back during Abramoff probe that, googling back, you find everyone covered it one way or another: Salon's James Verini's Tale of the Red Scorpion from 2005 is still up. There's is TNR's Franklin Foer's 2006, Mr. Abramoff Goes to Hollywood, which lays out how Abramoff started off the film in Swaziland (funded by South Africa), ended up in Namibia and ran head long back home into the New York Times and the anti-apartheid lobby - somewhere in there is also Grace Jones and The Namibian newspaper. For the less severe right wing take, there's the Weekly Standard piece by Mark Hemmingway - My Dinner with Jack: The Jamboree in Jamba, the making of 'Red Scorpion,' and other tales of the Abramoff era. According to Hemmingway, the origins of Red Scorpion actually began in Jamba:
But for Abramoff, the pivotal moment in Jamba came when he was approached by someone trying to secure funding for a documentary about Savimbi. Abramoff scoffed. Rambo: First Blood Part II had just been released in theaters three weeks earlier, becoming the first film to open on more than 2,000 screens. "Why would you want to make a documentary? Nobody watches documentaries," he told me. "I said to the guy, 'You should make an action film.'"You can also say this for Abramoff--the man has a gift for making wild ideas a reality. Jack revisited his movie idea in an entertainment law class he took while finishing his degree at Georgetown a few years later. He sketched out a story based loosely on what he knew about Savimbi's plight and the Soviet operations in that part of Africa.
Fore fills us in on the script:
Washington conservatives overlooked the abundant evidence suggesting that Savimbi was an ideological chameleon with little compunction about stomping on human rights. But never mind the nuances--Abramoff had found his muse... A script doctor turned Abramoff's folkloric version of Savimbi into a bad parody of the loud whiz-bang cold war thriller then popular with audiences. Red Scorpion, described as the "African Rambo," tells the story of a Soviet-trained assassin (Lundgren) sent to murder a Savimbi-like character. In the end, Lundgren comes to understand the virtues of the rebel cause and turns on his communist bosses, killing lots of Cubans in the process. (Red Scorpion's potty-mouthed dialogue bears tonal similarities to Abramoff's infamous e-mail exchanges: "An American can swear whenever, wherever, however much he or she fuckin' well pleases!") When Warner Brothers agreed to distribute the picture, Abramoff was suddenly living his Hollywood dream. Abramoff sold Red Scorpion as a work of verisimilitude. He claimed to know the region cold, and he would shoot his film in Swaziland, the small Bantu kingdom wedged between South Africa and Mozambique. His attraction to the region was financial as well as ideological. By hiring the services of the South African film industry, which suffered under the anti-apartheid boycott, he could exploit massive tax deductions available to investors there...

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