Ever since Kanye told us not to buy them, conflict diamonds have been the talk of accessory lovers every where. Well sort of. Most people don't even know what conflict diamonds are, and if it wasn’t for songs like “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” we probably still wouldn’t hear about it.
Except now, thanks to a young filmmaker named Kareem Edouard, there is the beginning of something much bigger. Distributed by WGH Films Edouard's documentary short entitled Bling: Consequences and Repercussions has been screened in various festivals, talked about by Hip Hop bloggers and has even gotten press from NPR, Air America Radio, Elemental Magazine and XXL Magazine.
In developtment for two years before filming began, “Bling” is an eleven minute film that delves into the truth behind the diamond industry and how it is destroying many people's lives. The short intercuts footage of diamond mines and war scenes from Sierra Leone and images of rappers wearing diamond encrusted jewelery. The voiceover narration was provided by Hip Hop's “CNN newscaster” Chuck D. In between the images are interviews with various experts in the field. A couple names: David Shimanov of Kinetics Jewelery who makes pieces for some of the rap scene's biggest name (50 Cent, Tony Yayo, Juelz Santana, etc) and Greg Campbell, author of the book Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stone. There are also some on-street interviews in which people are asked how much they know about conflict diamonds. Needless to say, not too many people know about what’s going on.
Kareem Edouard took some time out to answer a few questions for me about his new acclaimed film short.
When did you start directing films? What have you worked on before this?
I directed my first film at 19. I am 24 now and I have done 4 short films, 8 music videos, finished 2 documentaries and several commercials. You can see some of my work in the Reel section of my website www.wghfilms.com
How and when did you get interested in the issue of conflict diamonds?
My interest in the conflict diamond issue started when a friend of mine (German emcee named Afrob) told me a story a couple of years ago. He said he had seen footage of a five year old coming out of a mine coughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. The overseers told him to look up to the sky and he would be alright. As he turned they shot him in the back of the head. His young life was ended on the spot. He was of no value to them with bad lungs. I won’t forget that moment.
Do you think artists like Kanye West (who make reference to the problem of conflict diamonds in their music) are really getting the message across to listeners and other rappers?
NO. Let me explain. Kanye’s video was visually beautiful and relevant, but the song had nothing to do with conflict diamonds. He addressed them in the remix, but that version of the song got no play. He had the perfect opportunity and the platform to really make people aware instead he just confused them with conflicting messages. If you want to find out what is really going on check out the film on the website free at www.wghfilms.com
Why do you think Hip Hop and diamonds have become so connected?
I think, that the reason for the over abundance of diamonds in Hip Hop is that most of these artists come from the street. They grow up with absolutely nothing and the first time they see a cash advance they are ready to show the world that they “made it.” Rather than buy a house, property or stocks they head straight to the jewelry store. It is ridiculous. These days record labels are actually buying their new artists jewelry because no one will buy their music if they don’t already have that “Ice.” It’s sad, no one cares about skills, content or talent anymore.
How did you get Chuck D to narrate the film? What was it like working with him?
I knew Prince Paul (De La Soul, Gorillaz) and we were talking about the project. He knew Chuck would be a good person to get involved in the film so he gave me his information. Chuck and I met and did an interview together about conflict diamonds for Air America Radio back in 2004. It is always nice to have a legend on the team.
Has De Beers or other diamond merchants responded to the film?
I haven’t heard anything yet from DeBeers, but I would love to interview a representative of their company for the feature length version of the film. I have a whole lot of questions for them!
What is your hope for this film? Are you passing it through the film festival circuit?
I don’t see a limit to where this film can go. Hopefully the feature will go to the theaters. The short version has already been screened at the Pan African Film Festival, Hip Hop Film Festival, H2O Film Festival, Pittsburgh Film Festival, Unity Shield Film Festival, Black Soil Film Festival, Thank God for Hip Hop Film Festival and Hip Hop Film Festival. I also want to see this used as a teaching tool in classrooms. We have already had several teachers request a copy of the film for their students.
Do you think, after this, you'll go on to do more work on this film? Maybe turn it into a full-length film?
Absolutely, that is the plan. We have so much more to talk about. The short version was just a small taste of what is to come. The feature will touch more than just Hip Hop and it will delve much deeper into the diamond industry and our overindulgent culture in general.
What are the top ten songs on your Ipod/MP3 Player/CD Player/Etc?
Asheru and Blue Black- “Nigga Like Me”
Smif N Wessun- “Gun Rap”
Samurai Champloo- “Aruarian Dance”
Andrew Hill-“Soul Special”
Tribe Called Quest- “Sucka Nigga”
Cowboy Bebop- “What Planet Is This”
De La Soul- “It’s So Easy”
Masta Ace- “On Da Grind”
MHz- “This Year”
Images provided by Kareem Edouard