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| 45 The Revolution Has Been Televised Fact, Fiction, and Spectacle in the 1970s and 1980s Kate Cowcher T he twentieth century is replete with examples of fijilm intersecting with the processes of political revolution. From Sergei Eisenstein’s epic restaging of the October revolution as an unequivocally popular upsurge to what Timothy Garton Ash called the real-time “telerevolutions” (1990, 90) that accompanied the collapse of communism, screens, large and small, have played critical roles in efffecting, amplifying, and mythologizing radical ruptures in the status quo. The Ethiopian revolution of 1974 is rarely remembered for anything more than ushering in a violent Marxist military dictatorship, led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Derg (“committee”) on whose hands the blood of many thousands of Ethiopians remains. Without forgetting the great darkness that clouds the years between 1974 and 1991, it is, nonetheless, important to examine the revolution as more than simply a tale of oppression and of late Cold War maneuvering. It is the contention of this chapter, and of my broader research into Ethiopian artistic practice in the 1970s and 1980s, that the creation, dissemination, and provocation of images was at the heart of the break with the imperial tradition and that moving images, in particular, both dealt a seminal blow to the waning authority of Emperor Haile Selassie and shaped the subsequent course of the revolution. 46 | Kate Cowcher Those familiar with the events in Addis Ababa in 1974 will know that the name JonathanDimblebyissynonymouswiththeemperor’sfall.Manywholivedthrough it still revere him as the man who exposed the depths of neglect to which Haile Selassiehadsunk ;hisnamefeaturesinthewalltextof theRedTerrorMartyrs’Museum in Addis. On September 11, 1974, the Ethiopian public was shown an edited version of Dimbleby’s 1973 television documentary about the devastating famine inWollo. The emperor, too, reportedly watched the fijilm, and as the hunger-ravaged bodies of his rural subjects fijilled the screen he became “lost in thought” (Kapuściński et al. 2006, 161).The following day a military delegation arrived at the palace to arrest him, and he was, infamously, driven to his imprisonment and eventual death in the back seat of a VW Beetle. The South African journalist Colin Legum, then based in Addis and writing for the UK’s Sunday newspaper TheObserver, described the scene in an article entitled “The Night They ‘Hanged’ Selassie” (Legum 1974). “Things were arranged rather better in Ethiopia this week,” he wrote, “than when the Bolsheviks removed the last of the Tsars, or when the French Revolutionaries carried the last of the Bourbons to the guillotine.” “In modern style,” Legum continued, “the assassination took place on the television screens and the radio waves on the night before Selassie’s dethronement . . . The whole nation had been invited to watch a TV spectacle in which the bones of feudal rule were exposed with ruthless professionalism.” This“TVspectacle”featuresinmanyof thehistoriesof theEthiopianrevolution (for example, Keller 1991, 187; Ottaway and Ottaway 1978, 57; Kalb 2000, 144–145) but is usually affforded a sentence or two and portrayed as the curious fijinal straw that broke the regime. Although some note, as did Bahru Zewde (2001), that the fijilm that was shown was “a canny collage of royal feast and peasant famine [that] drove home the emperor’s alleged callousness,” it has not been extensively explored that whatappearedonEthiopianscreensinSeptember1974wasradicallydiffferentfrom what had been shown in the United Kingdom months earlier. Dimbleby’s original fijilm, made for Thames Television, was entitled The Unknown Famine and had not used any images of Haile Selassie. Dimbleby’s voiceover had, in fact, informed its viewers that while the imperial government had “let things get out of control,” they were now reaching out for help. When this fijilm arrived in Addis, sent by Thames Television in accordance with the policy of sending copies of fijilms back to the countriesinwhichtheyweremade,Dimbleby’smorediplomatictonewasdisplaced andhisfootagereeditedtoincludeimagesof theemperor’sindulgences,fromlavish dinners to pampered pets. The new version, fijilled with jarring juxtaposition, was Fact, Fiction, and Spectacle | 47 retitled The Hidden Hunger. What began as an efffort by a Western journalist to inform those outside Ethiopia of the country’s desperate plight was transformed into a moving image indictment that asserted not just that the famine had been neglected but also that it had been willfully concealed. In this chapter I put the critical role played by Dimbleby’s doctored fijilm into a broader history of cinema and television in the revolution’s unfolding. I argue that the nature of...


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