A United Kingdom is a British made film about the love story of Sir Seretse Khama – heir to throne of Bechuanaland (which was then a British Protectorate) and Ruth Williams – a white Englishwoman. They met and fell in love while he was studying law at Oxford. They married in 1948, the same year that apartheid was signed into law in south Africa and racism was rampant across the world. What follows is an incredible story – unbelievable to me what two people had to go through just to be together. Fighting against prejudices on all sides. Seretse being exiled from his own country and stripped of his birth-right just because of love. How the simple relationship of two people could create so much anger and have such huge political ramifications across multiple nations is mind-blowing.
You get to see the legacy of imperialism in action as Britain steps in to protect its interests in southern Africa. After WWII, Britain was in major debt and needed cheap gold and uranium from South Africa to keep its economy afloat. Since they couldn’t afford to alienate South Africa by supporting an inter-racial royal couple – they forced their hand to try to break up the marriage. You get to see how economic interests underhandedly drive political action. You can see how close Botswana was to being swept up into the apartheid movement and also losing rights to its natural resources – which were the key to transforming Botswana from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the fastest growing economies from 1966-1999.
For me, it was so interesting to get a window into what Botswana was like 50 years ago. The capital city of Gaborone has grown exponentially into a modern urban center, but the rural areas are still very similar to what is seen in the movie. When you drive to outside of Gaborone, you still have vast open empty areas and dirt roads like you see in the movie. It gives a great portrayal of the landscape here and most importantly highlights the amazing sunsets that are so special in Botswana.
The movie brought up a lot of emotions due to the current political and social climate in the US. I can’t even fathom not being able to chose who I love. But I realize there are many people who have fought this battle and still fight it today. I feel so lucky to never have experienced such prejudice. Living in Botswana is the first time in my life that I have felt like a complete outsider and a minority. Botswana tends to be a pretty xenophobic culture so although everyone is very polite and friendly – you are often kept at a distance as a white expat. Some things are just much more difficult for me to achieve as a white person. I get treated differently and am always acutely aware that I am different. But this is part of the reason why I wanted to experience living in Africa. I think it is vitally important to step outside your comfort zone to see what its like to live in other people’s shoes. It is the only way you can fully experience life. I don’t know that I would be strong enough to face the hate and racism that so many people have had to bear their whole lives. I am in awe of the people who find ways to flourish in life despite their circumstances.
The US has come so far in promoting equality and acceptance it is heartbreaking to see such drastic reversals in the past few months. I just hope so much that people pull it together and get us back on the right track. Moving towards progress – towards understanding – towards kindness – towards love. I hope people open their eyes to the power that one person can have to change the mindset of a nation and how incredibly destructive thoughts and behaviors can be. I hope so much that this is just a blip on the radar and this election does not end up cast in history as the fated turn of events for America like the election of the National Socialist Party was for Germany or the National Party was for South Africa. I know people will wake up — they just have to!!
On a side note – there is a movie out right now in the US called “Loving” which details the relationship of Richard and Mildred Loving which leads to the landmark Loving v Virginia supreme court case which made interracial marriages legal. It looks really good and similar to the themes seen in A United Kingdom which opens into theatres in the US on Feb 17 2017.