Rapaport Magazine
Sierra Leone

Moviegoers Have Mixed Reactions to “Blood Diamond”

By Fred Michmershuizen
RAPAPORT... While the film was highly promoted by the film industry and feared by the diamond industry, the real question comes down to: “What do moviegoers think?”

After months of nervous anticipation among members of the jewelry industry, “Blood Diamond” opened December 8 to mixed reviews and less-than-stellar commercial success. A spot check of filmgoers who had seen the movie, including many approached on their way out of showings at theaters in Manhattan — everyday people not associated with the diamond trade — revealed varying reactions.

Most people said they thought the movie was well made. A few dismissed it as bad, using phrases like “typical Hollywood fluff.” And some said they attended simply because they wanted to see the star, Leonardo DiCaprio. Many of them said that they were struck by the human suffering that was depicted in the movie.

“I thought it was a good movie,” said Steven Couse, 47, a writer from upstate New York. “I like Leonardo DiCaprio. He did a very good job acting the role.”

“It was excellent,” said Fergus Hanna, 50, a publisher who lives in Manhattan.
“I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was really good,” said Raymond Wenzel, 52, an industrial designer.

“The movie had a great story line and great action. I give it a B-plus or an A-minus,” said Robert Peck, a viewer who appeared to be in his 20s.

“Leo DiCaprio was excellent. I give the movie five stars,” said a 20-something moviegoer who would only identify himself as Zak.

Another viewer was more critical. “It was typical Hollywood fluff, with a valuable yet pedantic message as an excuse for poor-quality storytelling,” said Jake Eagleberg, 45, an actuary from Fort Lee, New Jersey.

When asked if they thought the events depicted in the movie were more factual or fictional, most said they thought the movie was grounded in reality.
“I thought the story was more factual,” said Couse. “I did not know that much about the diamond trade until I saw the movie.”

“I thought there was a lot of fact to it,” said Hanna. “I am an avid reader, so I have been aware of stuff like this happening — a lot of underhanded activities and scurrilous behavior.”

“You don’t realize what’s going on out there, in Sierra Leone, with diamonds,” said Peck. “That stuff did happen. It’s based on truth.”
“It felt real. It felt like I was in Africa,” said Zak.

“I know that it is fiction, but it certainly seems like it could be true,” said Wenzel. “In other words, it is believable.”

Another viewer said that she had “no way of knowing” whether the movie was fact or fiction.

Perhaps, the question of biggest concern to jewelers is whether “Blood Diamond” will have any impact on the purchasing decisions of people who have seen the movie. When asked if their decision to buy a diamond would be affected in the future by having seen the movie, some viewers said it would.

“My opinion of the diamond industry changed slightly for the worse,” said Hanna. “I would not want any money I spend on diamonds to go to the wrong people, and there does look like a lot of inappropriate dealings with regard to Africa’s diamonds, at least.”

“It was shocking,” said Wenzel. “I was not aware of the illicit diamond trade before I saw this film. I wonder if the diamonds available at retail are in any way connected to this blood diamond trade. I wonder if the industry has any safeguards in place and how effective they are.”

Another viewer, a woman who appeared to be in her early 30s who would not give her name, said she had been planning to buy diamond studs with her bonus money but seeing the movie caused her to change her mind.

One viewer was cynical. “It made me think more about buying jewelry,” Couse said. “Maybe I will think more about researching the background of the merchant selling the jewelry, although it probably would be pointless.”

“Blood Diamond” was backed by a massive marketing campaign that is typical of major Hollywood movies. For weeks leading up to its debut, ads for the movie appeared on television, and billboards could be seen on the streets of major cities like New York. DiCaprio and the movie’s other stars — Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly — made the rounds on late-night talk shows. DiCaprio, Hounsou and the film’s director, Edward Zwick, appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show. And Jay Leno and David Letterman mentioned the movie in their monologues during the movie’s opening week.

But by opening in December, “Blood Diamond” found itself competing for attention among a number of other high-profile movies. For its opening weekend, “Blood Diamond” came in at number five at the box office, earning $8.6 million. For its debut, it opened behind Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto,” plus “The Holiday” and two other movies — “Happy Feet” and “Casino Royale” — that were a month old. In its second weekend of release, “Blood Diamond” slipped to the number seven spot, earning $6.3 million.

Despite its — so far — limited commercial success at the box office, “Blood Diamond” might just be around for a while, keeping the diamond industry under the loupe of public scrutiny. Awards season began in December with the Golden Globe nominations, with DiCaprio nominated for Best Actor for his role in “Blood Diamond.” That — plus potential Oscar contention for “Blood Diamond” — is likely to draw even more attention to the movie in months to come.

Some viewers shared a belief that the movie carries with it an important message.

“It is disturbing the way the product appears to matter much more than human beings,” said Hanna.

“I think it is important for people to understand how their money changes world affairs,” said Couse. “So, in that respect, I think it was an important movie.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2007. To subscribe click here.

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