April 18, 2005
Me and My White Pal, 2003
A graduate student from Burkina Faso named Mamadi, forced to find last-minute employment in order to cover his tuition and housing expenses after his educational grants fail to materialize at the local embassy, calls on a fellow countryman and distant cousin - a politically frustrated, self-exiled intellectual with a slew of unpracticed doctoral degrees hung on his wall - to help him obtain a job at his elder cousin's place of employment: the parking garage. Working in the uneventful tedium of the off-shift hours as a parking attendant, Mamadi occupies his time by working on his thesis, watching the surveillance cameras positioned throughout the facility through his auto-switching monitor, and chatting up personable, attractive young women, often in the presence of their lovers (alluding to stereotypes of African libido and expatriates who eagerly abandon their hometown sweethearts to embark on affairs with people outside of their race). One day, while watching an over-amorous couple from the surveillance monitor, Mamadi accidentally triggers the facility alarm. In the confusion, a pair of drug dealers who had been waiting inside the facility for a pre-arranged transaction is forced to abandon their plan, scurry their package into a dimly lit area for later retrieval, and nonchalantly drive off from the premises. Retrieving the curious package from its makeshift hiding place, the naïve Mamadi asks the assistance of his friend Franck to identify the contents and who, in turn, immediately realizes the nefarious (and undoubtedly fatal) implications of Mamadi's impulsive intervention. Now on the run from relentless (and ever-closing) thugs, Franck and Mamadi decide to hide out in Mamedi's native hometown, only to run into a different set of challenges in the bucolic paradise. Me and My White Pal is a wry, unassuming, and effervescent, but incisive and acutely observed satire on social stereotypes, implicit racism, and cultural perception. By presenting a cross-cultural perspective of what is means to be a foreigner - for both Mamadi in France and subsequently, Franck in Burkina Faso - Pierre Yameogo illustrates the folly of broad stroke, popular misconceptions of races and societies that contribute to an atmosphere of culturally fostered ignorance, propagation of cultural myths, and sense of isolating otherness: the unbridled riches of African expatriates living in (or returning from) the West (and by the same token, Westerners who visit the country), the rampancy of AIDS and famine in Africa, the superficial view of all foreigners as illegal aliens. Moreover, through Mamedi's frustrated efforts to study abroad so that he may return home and obtain a civil service position in order to effect change within his beloved country, Yameogo implicitly underscores the rampant corruption and propagandization of the international successes achieved by native scholars, intellectuals, and self-made expatriates endemic in many African countries that effectively serve to stifle progress and socio-economic change and reinforce the lopsided imbalance of power to a select, political elite.