Charles Mudede Discusses Police Beat and Zoo
MacInnis, Allan, CineAction
Charles Tonderai Mudede was born in Rhodesia--now Zimbabwe--in 1969. He is currently the associate editor of Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger, where he regularly covers crime as part of his Police Beat column, and occasionally writes feature and film reviews. He has written two films with director Robinson Devor, Police Beat and Zoo, and has published one book on the Green River killer, Last Seen, with Diana George, available through the Artspeak gallery in Vancouver.
Police Beat (2005) was the first collaboration between screenwriter Charles Tonderai Mudede, director Robinson Devor, and cinematographer Sean Kirby. Shot in lush blue hues and focusing on the greener aspects of Seattle, the film details the psychic disintegration of a conservative African immigrant, known only as Z, working as a Seattle bicycle cop; though the central action of the film is in English, it is narrated by Z is his own language, Wolof, and subtitled. The failure of Z's romantic relationship is mirrored by the various grotesque and absurd cases he investigates, the details of which were drawn from Mudede's "Police Beat" column for Seattle's alternative newspaper, The Stranger.
Zoo (2007), the second collaboration between Mudede, Devor, and Kirby, is a documentary on the notorious Enumclaw horse sex case, in which a successful Seattle engineer involved in top secret research at a secretive Boeing plant known locally as the Black Hole, was found to have died after having been anally penetrated by a horse. The film--which has been praised for its sensitivity and unexpected lyricism--is largely assembled around the audio testimony of other zoophiles, one of whom, known in the film as the Happy Horseman, delivered Mr. Hands to the hospital and was later charged wtih trespassing (since no laws against horse sex were in place in Washington State at that time). Another of the zoophiles, known by the name Coyote--reflecting his interest in dogs, rather than horses--actually appears in the film, though his face is never clearly shown. Mudede's original article on the case, "The Animal in You," can be read online on The Stranger's website.
The following interview took place over the course of two phone conversations in the spring and summer of 2007.
Allan MacInnis: I'd wanted to ask you about Police Beat, to start off with. Do I assume your intention was to invert the usual depiction of Africa as a "heart of darkness," by viewing disorder in western society from the perspective of a conservative African?
Charles Mudede: Right, right. You're correct.
A: Was it primarily drawn from autobiographical observations of life in Seattle, or were you intending it as more of a provocation?
C: No no no--like, a lot of people think, when you see National Geographic or something of that kind, you always think that Africans are just these kind of sensual animals, you know? Who are immediate, who respond to things with no sense of the past but only of the present. What I wanted to show is that actually my experience, as an African, of Africans, is that they're very conservative. They actually think Europeans are kind of wild and crazy and have no regard of tradition, of history, of customs. And in that sense, you have this guy who comes into this country, and he's looking around him, and he really is trying to adjust to a new and more flexible kind of moral reality. Flexible in the sense that it seems to him that people aren't centered, that they are in a situation of invention ... and it's difficult for him to act, because nobody understands that problems or situations require a kind of consensual morality, you know, a kind of consensual understanding of what the past is and therefore what the future should be. It wasn't so much that I agreed with him on his moral positions, but I wanted to understand that, as an African, that I think Africans are more moral, more conservative than Europeans are. …