â€œWhen you really look at what happens to a boy who is forced to killâ€”that is the destruction of a human soul.â€
Through the foreign journalist Maddy Bowen's (Jennifer Connelly) connections, Solomon Vandy (Dijimon Hounsou) finds his family in a refugee camp.Â It is there that he learns his 12-year-old son, Dia-a promising student with dreams of becoming a doctor-has been taken by the rebels and forced to become a child soldier.Â Dia is played by Kagiso Kuypers, a young actor discovered at the National School of Art in Johannesburg, South Africa.Â Director Ed Zwick chose him over hundreds of other young hopefuls from townships all over the region.Â "Many of these kids were just remarkable, but Kagiso stood out," Zwick says.Â "I really pushed him in his audition, and it impressed me that he understood what is done to Dia and how he changes as a child and as a son."
Zwick adds, "I have a teenage son, and the idea of one's child being taken and brainwashed by a group of vicious, cold-blooded killers is a horror beyond imagining."
Sadly, there are thousands of fathers and mothers in the world for whom that horror has become all too real.Â Sorious Samura attests, "Child soldiers were around long before the war in Sierra Leone, and it continues today because there are people who realize how effective children can be against their enemies.Â They mess with the minds of these children and teach them to do terrible things."
"When you really look at what happens to a child who is forced to kill-that is the destruction of a human soul," declares producer Marshall Herskovitz.Â "It is an incalculable crime against humanity."
Producer Gillian Gorfil agrees, stating, "Two of the most precious qualities children have are their honesty and their innocence.Â When you take away a child's innocence, it can never be regained.Â That is unforgivable."
"What do you rob these children of when you put a gun in their hands and teach them to kill, and in the name of what?" producer Paula Weinstein submits.Â "I admired the fact that Ed was intent on portraying that part of the story honestly."
Even as they unflinchingly depicted the indoctrination of the child soldiers, the filmmakers took great care to protect not only the bodies but the hearts and minds of the young actors in those scenes.Â "There were all sorts of rules and guidelines as to what the children could and could not be exposed to," Herskovitz expounds. Â "It was all thought out with their protection in mind, so we were happy to comply."
Zwick also dealt with the children directly.Â "I spent a lot of time talking to them about the scenes and explaining the history of child soldiers.Â It was essential that they understood the implications of what they were doing, and these kids got it."
Perhaps the proof of how well the young actors "got it" can be found in the words of Kagiso Kuypers, who, after filming "Blood Diamond," said, "I have never and I will never use a gun in a way that could hurt somebody."
Samura is optimistic that the onscreen depiction of Dia's cruel initiation will help bring about a positive change in the real world.Â "Some people in Sierra Leone cannot forgive the child soldiers, but maybe if they see it was not the children's fault, they will understand the need to forgive these kids."
Two adult characters in the movie represent the horror and the hope of the child soldiers.Â David Harewood portrays the merciless rebel soldier known as Captain Poison, who is personally responsible for capturing and enslaving Solomon Vandy and then victimizing his son, Dia.Â Harewood comments, "I think you can sum up my character in one line that he says: â€˜You think I am a devil, but only because I have lived in hell.Â I want out.'"
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the character of Benjamin, a dedicated teacher who runs a school for the youngest victims of the war, including former child soldiers.Â It is a place where they can, in Benjamin's words, be brought "back to life."Â Basil Wallace, who plays the part of Benjamin, offers, "From his vantage point, although these children have been put through some hellacious things, they are still our future.Â We have to love and nurture them, because if we have a generation of children who know nothing but suffering and inflicting pain, we have no future."
Read more about the cast of Blood Diamond in the article,"Getting Into Character In Africa."Â You can learn about the film Blood Diamond and disucss the issue of conflict diamonds at Movies on Gather, now featuring Blood Diamond.
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