Africa is not usually a country people in western civilization wish to flock to for any other reason than venturing on a safari or joining the Peace Corps. In fact, Africa may be the most undesirable continent in terms of vacation spots. The draw of food, beaches, and novelty alcoholic beverages simply isn't there. And yet, Madonna somehow manages to paint the African country of Malawi as a place worth visiting, if for no other reason than to see that it is possible to find some small form of happiness in even the worst imaginable scenario.
In the documentary, I Am Because We Are, Malawi is spotlighted as the second poorest country in the world, with approximately 12 million suffering from AIDS and 1 million children cited as orphans. Such grim statistics would lead one to believe that there is not a hopeful message contained within the story, but writer/producer Madonna isn't one for espousing a bleak outlook. Director Nathan Rissman (who also moonlights as Madonna's gardener) highlights tragic scenes of famine, inadequate healthcare, and a fledgling education system, yet, peppered with Madonna's narration and her hope that Malawi, a country rich in tradition and familial bonds, can get better, the film's tone does not exude an altogether disconsolate air.
Partially divided by story, I Am Because We Are follows the travails of different children forced to live their lives in an orphanage, or worse, become the head of their own household at the age of as young as nine years old. Most of these children have inherited AIDS from their mothers or will contract it as a result of the unsanitary conditions that pervade Malawi.
Because of the documentary's subject, there is no shortage of heart-wrenching scenes, some of which include a young, emaciated mother dying of AIDS, but nonetheless using all of her strength to discuss how she wishes she could live to take care of her children. Such scenes are interspersed with interviews from varying experts (Desmond Tutu, Jeffrey Sachs, Bill Clinton, etc.) with insight on the extensive, cyclical quandaries that have weakened Malawi over a long period of time.
In the early sixties, the country emancipated itself from British rule, determined that British influence was to be stifled completely. In place of an imperialist government, a new domestic one arose that would soon become riddled with corruption and apathy. At the helm of this somewhat lax government until 1994, Hastings Banda has been both applauded and chastised for his contribution to the improvement of Malawi's economic growth. Judging from its current state, it seems the latter assessment is correct.
Regardless of how defeated the Malawians might be, what one takes away from this film is that they are inherently happy. Commenting through the narration, Madonna observes that in some of the most privileged cities in the world, New York, Beverly Hills, and London, you will not find people who are as grateful and emotionally fulfilled as the Malawian population. Yes, their situation is the very embodiment of an unjust world, but they manage to work through it all together. Hence, the film's title, I Am Because We Are. In other words, I cannot exist without you, your struggle is my struggle, and everything and everyone is interconnected.
No matter how technologically advanced we become, and consequently no matter how isolated, we are all in this life thing together. The concept of "us versus them" is absurd. One group of humans should never logically feel the need to go up against another. We are one and the same. Harming another human being by simply watching the burdens that befall him or her is only a detriment to the person idly standing by. More than anything, I Am Because We Are illustrates this point and encourages action, even if it is as effortless as donating a dollar to an organization, any organization, that will make your fellow man feel less alone.