Beasts Of No Nation: Comparing the Moral Consciousness Function in Iweala’s Novel and Fukunaga’s Film Adaptation
In October of 2015 Netflix released Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film adaptation of Beasts of No Nation, a 2005 novel by Nigerian-American writer Uzodinma Iweala, as part of its Netflix Originals series. The release of the film through the Netflix platform was a historic event. As A.O. Scott reported in the New York Times, Beasts was the first full-length fictional film Netflix released as part of this series (Scott). This raises the question of both why Netflix would select a war-drama about a child soldier in an unnamed West African country as a way to break into the business of streaming brand-imprinted, full-length fictional pieces to large-scale, at-home audiences, as well as what Netflix’s decision to pick up the film says about the moral consciousness function of the African child soldier narrative when it is adapted into a film format. While I am interested in the former question, my essay will focus primarily on the latter in order to keep my project within a manageable range.
In this early stage, I have a few ideas for approaching my preliminary research questions for this project. Allison Mackey’s work on child soldier narratives is useful in thinking about these questions. Mackey explains that these narratives “summon readers as potential witnesses, holding them accountable […] for their own responses. While there are no guarantees, these indirect yet insistent narrative strategies succeed- at least potentially- in coaxing the reader into recognizing vast webs of power and complicity of which we all form a part” (101). In my paper, I would like to compare Fukunaga’s version of Beasts with Iweala’s novel in order to understand how this moral-consciousness raising function shifts or differs in each version. Does the novel, for example, emphasize different aspects of the account of Agu, the first-person child narrator of Iweala’s novel, than the film? Which aspects and what does this say about how child soldier narratives are used as a way to get the public to reflect on some of the issues that the story touches on, such as war, child exploitation and human corruption? Does a film adaptation of this nature result in an exoticizing or othering of West African culture? How or in what ways, and what are the ramifications of this, especially in light of the potential of this massively-viewed film to shape the US collective imagination about Africa?
Thus far, I see one of my biggest potential challenges in this project as trying to balance my close readings of the novel and the film with my interest in exploring the business and industry aspects of online streaming service providers such as Netflix and the ways that their content selection process reflects brand-building and subscriber retention strategies. I think one way to do this would be to make sure to ground the argument firmly within the story-telling strategies that the novel and the film each employ. After exploring my questions about moral consciousness, as a conclusion I could then briefly delve into how the observations I have made are important to consider in discussions of representing Africa in this digitized and profit-centered global-streaming age.
Mackey, Allison. “Troubling Humanitarian Consumption: Reframing Relationality in African Child Soldier Narratives.” Research in African Literatures 44.4 (Winter 2013): 99-122.
Scott, A.O. “Review: ‘Beasts of No Nation’ a Brutal Tale of Child Soldiers in Africa.” The New York Times.15 Oct. 2015.