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Review: Born Too White
TV critic Abbie Pease review BBC's Born Too White, a harrowing documentary shedding light on the issues with albinism in Eastern Africa
Being born with albinism in Eastern Africa has been likened to receiving a death sentence; those with the condition have been brutally murdered, cut up for use in potions and forced into isolation for their own protection. This World offers viewers an insight into the disturbing treatment of those with albinism in Tanzania and Malawi, allowing Doctor Oscar Duke to travel to Eastern Africa and investigate the lives of those affected. As a British citizen who suffers from the condition himself, Duke reveals the deep contrast between how he has been treated and how those in Eastern Africa experience the medical condition. Insightful and eye-opening, Born Too White is a thoughtful account of one of the most inhumane practices in Eastern Africa. Despite the tragedies that the documentary reveals, it also shines light on those who are making a real change to the people born ‘white in a black world’.
“Insightful and eye-opening, Born Too White is a thoughtful account of one of the most inhumane practices in Eastern Africa
Albinism is a genetic condition that occurs when an individual cannot produce a pigment known as melanin, which affects the colouring of the skin and hair, and damages the eyesight. There is a deep stigma surrounding those with the condition in countries such as Tanzania and Malawi, where there are large albino populations. The whiteness of their skin is something that distinguishes them from others in Eastern Africa, more so than it would in the western world. On top of this, the link between African culture and witchcraft exasperates the problem, as many believe that the use of albino body parts in potions can bring one money and prosperity. As 60% of the Tanzanian population believe in witchcraft, it is clear that this plays a key role in fuelling the discrimination that albino members of African communities experience. Both of these factors have led to a wave of albino murders in Eastern Africa, which Duke sets out to investigate.
When Duke first arrives in Tanzania he visits a school in which there are a number of albino students. Speaking to the children at the school, it is evident that albinism is an accepted and normalised part of communities in some areas of Eastern Africa. However, there is evidence of discrimination in even the most accepting of communities. Duke meets with Festo, a boy whose limbs and teeth were taken from him when he was just seven years old. With his teacher as his guardian, Festo has been supported by his school and community. It is heartbreaking to see the challenges the Festo faces, but uplifting to see the notoriety that he has received at his school for being such a brilliant artist and student. Despite the trauma surrounding Festo’s past, which relates directly to his albinism, Duke remains composed and understanding, offering Festo hope.
On his quest to find out the extent to which the African community is still entrenched in superstitious beliefs, Duke visits a traditional doctor who claims that his dreams teach him how to use medicine.The wealth and prosperity of the doctor that Duke meets reveals the power of those practicing a type of medicine that would be deemed unconventional in the western world. Although the doctor Duke meets does not practice witchcraft, those doing so are a common feature of East African communities. Those who wish to use the body parts of albinos have forced children into protective communities that cut them off from the rest of society for their own protection. Many of the children living in these circumstances are unable to see their family due to the danger of going home. Despite the security that these locations offers, living in such a confined space can cause them to become psychologically damaged. Duke correctly points out that the fact children are being forced into isolation speaks volumes about the backwardness of the East African culture.
Moving on from Tanzania, Duke travels to Malawi, a country that has experienced a recent wave in albino killings. In Malawi alone, 13 albino people have been murdered in the last two years. The audience witnesses a heartbreaking meeting between Duke and the family of Fletcher Masina, an albino boy who was murdered six months ago. Fletcher was murdered by people familiar to him whilst working on a farm in his community. The seven men took off his limbs, private parts and organs before leaving him mutilated to be found by his family. After this shocking account, Duke visits the Malawian prison that is holding one of the men charged with Fletcher’s murder. The man claims that he was sent by others to carry out the deed in return for 40 million Malawi Kwacha. The killer hangs his head in embarrassment, failing to look into the eyes of Duke as he talks about the murder. Despite this, no remorse can be seen, as he blames satan for his actions. This reiterates the reliance of the African community on sorcery to explain the situations that they face.
“Despite the devastation that overshadows the treatment of those with albinism, there is hope and an increasingly active government willing to help
As well as chart the difficulties albinos face, Born Too White meets with those helping to spark a change in attitudes. Duke looks at the work of Standing Voice, a UK charity that provides skin clinics and free dermatology consultations to albino Africans. Despite the devastation that overshadows the treatment of those with albinism, there is hope and an increasingly active government willing to help improve the lives of those with the condition. By ending the documentary on a positive note, viewers can find comfort in the changes that are beginning to emerge in Eastern Africa.