The following comments are my personal opinions and do not reflect the values of MadaLiving, LLC.
Let me start this off by saying that I hate the movie Madagascar. There, I said it and it feels so good. I take pleasure in despising the movie in a cheeky albeit annoyed way. I am so tired of talking about Madagascar to new peers and 1 of the 3 things they know about Madagascar is from the movie and I hate it here so much.
The hate stems from a crispy spring day back in late May of 2005. My family came in clutch securing tickets to see the first Madagascar movie during a premiere at the local cinema. We were so excited to have a movie even feature the name of our country and it was a treat to be able to experience it in the theaters. Can you imagine the look of disappointment on an 8 year old kid’s face when there were no actual Malagasy people portrayed on the screen let alone anything to do with the actual country and culture of Madagascar? Pure horror.
To try to save the day, my 3 younger siblings and I walked out of the theaters loudly speaking Malagasy in hopes to attract other Malagasy folks who may be in the theater or maybe, just maybe, the director was in the back waiting to hear the opinions of actual Malagasy people. It felt like a bad episode of Punk'd and we kept waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out with cameras to let us in on the joke. Except the joke was on us. I'd never felt so invisible before. After that day, the message was super clear: the world would go on with these animated characters touting "Madagascar" but they would never know about us. It became easier to assimilate into American culture after this moment because then maybe, we would have some semblance of visibility. I jest but Madagascar and the subsequent spinoffs are a cancer to the world. I can’t take part in the joy and pleasure that it offers to children and adults who enjoy the movies and entertainment stemming from the movies and characters. Just coming to terms as an adult about how this movie has played a hand on my identity and psyche is one that I should be billing my therapist for lol.
Ok now that i've got that out of my system, can you imagine a company using and benefitting from a country’s name and likeness to hack their products? Actually yes I can, but they are pretty scummy people and companies. For example: 3 White American women are accused of erasing Chinese culture by trying to bring a “respectful refresh” of the game Mahjong.
The audacity for these White women to reclaim something that is not theirs to claim is infuriating but not uncommon. Cultural whitewashing has recently come to the forefront of media for how cultures, traditions, characters, etc, are tweaked to satisfy Western stereotypes. For example, it's Emma Stone cast as a mixed Asian-American actress in Aloha, Tilda Swinton playing a Tibetan monk in the movie Doctor Strange, it's just so disturbing on all accounts.
What really makes this whole use of Madagascar problematic is how as a country and people, we already have no control over our own image or say in our perception. The things is, the movie does nothing for us as a people and that is the issue. I believe that Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures are able to distribute and get away with using the title of Madagascar because they don't think anyone will make a fuss about this kind of thing. There is no respect for the real Madagascar. There was no thought process or after care about how taking the use of Madagascar will do anything to shed light about the people, animals, and nature. The movie didn't even do anything for lemur conservation as environmentalists were expecting. We can’t just write a cease and desist letter to Dreamworks to stop profiting off the use of Madagascar on behalf of a whole country. I mean could you imagine the insane legal fees?
Hell, I was at a party recently (observing all Covid protocols of course) chatting to a sweet unassuming lady when she asked me, "Is Madagascar really all a jungle?". It really took everything in me to not pounce on her like a fossa and make her regret saying those words. Maybe she wasn't trying to be ignorant and I am giving her the benefit of the doubt (like thinking all Africans live in huts and have pet lions) but here, the movie plays a part in those clueless about the country to make assumptions because they can and have been enabled too.
What are positive ways that non-Malagasy people can help and not cause harm in terms of Madagascar’s image? Well for one it’s to not co-opt the name of a country for financial benefit when it has nothing to do with the culture and people of the country. Another is to not further perpetuate neo-colonialsim and make us seem like helpless people and devalue us to take away the sacredness that is our country.
You Google Madagascar and of course the articles indexed on Google and those most searched will prompt the movie Madagascar, or the sad World Bank statistics and articles, or the latest critical issue on how climate change has already begun to ravage and cause famine and weather related disasters in the most vulnerable parts of Madagascar. I mean there's no denying that these are facts and pressing issues, however, it doesn't paint the whole picture of what Madagascar is like.
In the end, it is up to Malagasy people to take ownership of reclaiming the narrative. To do the good work and increase representation and bring visibility for our people and issues. I am also not here to gatekeep who or what is Malagasy or can use Madagascar. I am here to connect Madagascar to the world but I can’t grow a digital publication and take up digital space if non-Malagasy related content is taking precedence over that.
So here is a reintroduction to the real Madagascar. We are a diverse people made up of 18 ethnic tribes, we have a vibrant culture that is sacred, our people commit to strong family and community values, we have a strong history and social fabric, of course rich and diverse wildlife and fauna, and we are kind people. No animated movie can take away from how much our country means to us.