This is from an interview NPR’s Audie Cornish conducted with David Ayelowo, the actor who played Seretse Khama in the movie “A United Kingdom”:
A young woman meets a prince and falls in love. That sounds like the start of an old fashioned fairy tale, but in the movie “A United Kingdom” it’s the start of a diplomatic firestorm. The film tells the story of Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama, who married in 1948. Williams was a typist in London; Khama was heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, or modern-day Botswana.
Their marriage angered nearby countries that were part of the British empire, including South Africa, which had just banned mixed marriage and was establishing apartheid. As a result, Khama, played by David Oyelowo, was forced to defend his marriage both internationally and at home. One scene shows him doing just that in front of a tribal council.
“We should be fighting for equality,” he says. “That is where we should be focusing our minds, not on the wife I have chosen, who means you no harm, whose only apparent crime has been to fall in love with me — and mine to fall in love in with her. I cannot serve you without her by my side, but I cannot force you to accept this.”
“A United Kingdom” was not a movie that got a lot of attention when it came out in 2016. It didn’t quite break-even despite the film being on the lower end of the movie budget scale. My hunch is that even today, the marriage of a black man to a white woman can make us uncomfortable, and movie goers don’t like that kind of discomfort.
The film is based on a true story few Americans know, let alone remember. But within the British Empire from the late 40’s through the early 60’s, when Bechuanaland won it’s independence from Britain and became Botswana, it was a big deal. The film is based on the true story of the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, Seretse Khama of the Bamangwato people, who studies law in London immediately after World War II. There he meets a white woman, Ruth Williams, whom he eventually marries, despite the protests of both their families and opposition from the British government, which is concerned about relations with South Africa and the stability of the entire region of southern Africa. South Africa was a source of uranium for the British bomb effort, and gold for the depleted national finances.
Seretse and Ruth’s families were pleased with the accuracy of the storyline. A few necessary liberties were taken in the interest of telling a very complex political story within the requirements of a movie setting. The character of Alistair Canning (Played by Jack Davenport) is a fictional character meant to represent the duplicitous behavior of the British government, which included Winston Churchill when he was reelected as Prime Minister. Seretse and Ruth’s son and daughter did say Seretse was not as emotionally demonstrative as he appears in the movie.
The reason I selected this movie for our Popcorn Parables is the tenacious courage demonstrated by Seretse and Ruth and their ultimate triumph against great odds. Ruth’s courage as her father disowned her and Seretse’s people rejected her is particularly noteworthy. In the end, Seretse and Ruth were part of Botswana’s securing not only independence, but a transformation from the third poorest country in Africa to a country with the least corruption and a solid economic base that promotes a strong middle class.
Power and control, which often manifest as overt and covert racism, are always part of our cultural context. This stuff was in play all around Jesus, and it is a part of our experience whether we want to see it or not. But so is love and courage. As I prepare for Sunday, this the scripture I’m pondering this week:
Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out The Revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going. And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it.
Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. GOD, your God, is with you every step you take.”
These are the quotes I am recalling as I consider what it means to live into God’s will this day with obedience and courage:
“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
More on Sunday…