By Michelle Graff
michelle.graff@nationaljeweler.com

Having finally seen Blood Diamond in a sold-out preview Saturday night, I think the biggest impact the film will have is to make concerned consumers raise questions. In fact, in its post-script, it urges them to make sure the diamonds they buy are conflict-free.


The film contains plenty of violent images that without any context could be damaging to the diamond industry, most notably child soldiers and the horrors inflicted by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during Sierra Leone's civil war, as well as a diamond industry that enabled the trading of smuggled gems through a fictionalized diamond cartel called Van De Kamp (an obvious hit at De Beers). But ultimately, this isn't a message film and doesn't have the impact of something like the far superior Hotel Rwanda. Plus, it isn't saying "don't buy diamonds"; if anything, it tells people to be conscientious about the diamonds they do purchase. The strongest statement comes from Jennifer Connelly's journalist character who says people wouldn't want a diamond ring if they knew it cost another person their hand.


The plot-heavy film throws out a number of statistics and information about diamonds (it quotes the disputed figure that during the period 15 percent of diamonds were considered of conflict origin and has a mention of Global Witness). But it has such a relentless onslaught of violence (at times crossing over from compelling into video-game territory), history and fiction that the viewer is more likely to walk out feeling exhausted than suddenly enlightened about Africa and the role diamonds play, for good or ill. As one friend (someone who feels deeply about a number of global issues, but who is not in the jewelry industry) put it: "It didn't make me care." In other words, it's an action film, not a call-to-action film.


In the end, it comes off as a toss-up for the industry. Rather than an indictment, it feels like a slap on the wrist for past indiscretion and a more hopeful vision of how things have changed. It includes rather incomplete notes on the Kimberley Process and the fact that there is now peace in Sierra Leone. While it does give the rather grim statistic that there are still 200,000 child soldiers in Africa, it doesn't connect that statement to the diamond industry.


As for whether or not the film is good or bad, I think it's decent but far from great. The audience response seemed semi-positive (some applause at the end and one overheard "That was great"). I'm not sure if it's just because I've been writing about it month after month, but I was probably "over it" by the time I actually got to screen it. Usually when I see a film that really hits me, however, I want to talk about it extensively and passionately afterward, even if I've been caught up in the "buzz" leading up to it. Saturday night, neither myself nor anyone in my group of friends was particularly inspired to discuss the movie.


Blood Diamond is what I'd consider a solidly made action film that's raised up a notch by terrific performances from Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo DiCaprio. In terms of its Oscar chances, I think Hounsou has the best shot at a major Academy Award nomination in the supporting actor category. I'm sticking by my earlier prediction that DiCaprio will get nominated for best actor but for The Departed. His performance in Blood Diamond will no doubt help him get the recognition he deserves for the other film.


Regardless what the critical and commercial response is (you can read a few early reviews here), it's still a must-see for retailers and those in the diamond industry. The real ongoing story on this issue is far more interesting and compelling than this fiction, and its something jewelers must be prepared to share. Because if the film asks consumers to take responsibility for what they buy, jewelers have to be sure they've taken responsibility for what they sell.






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