Category Archives: Film review

Politicking about Ethiopian Cuisine with The Simpsons

By Alpha Abebe

Screenshot taken from video. Copyright: FOX Inc.

Screenshot taken from video. Copyright: FOX Inc.

As a child of the 80s and 90s growing up in North America, I was rather accustomed to hearing about Ethiopian conflict and famine on the news. However, one afternoon while my mother was watching The Young and the Restless in the living room, something caught my ear. A character casually suggested that the couple head to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. My adolescent mind was blown. How did the writers hear about Ethiopian food?! And who among them had the gumption to actually try it? Oh, and I sure hope they didn’t see the kitfo! Hitherto, I had only known Western and Ethiopian social spaces to exist separately, and the notion that the two could overlap truly fascinated me.

On November 13, 2011 an episode of The Simpsons aired, entitled “The Food Wife“. It featured a 3.5-minute segment where the family wearily stumble upon a Little Ethiopia enclave, but eventually find that they thoroughly enjoy the tastes and textures of Ethiopian cuisine. As foolishly entertaining as the show can be, The Simpsons is both a repository and icon of American pop culture and often provides great analyses on issues of contemporary global importance through satire. There’s much to learn from that two dimension dysfunctional family.

The following lines are taken from the opening scene of the segment, where Marge is horrified when her car breaks down in a dark and seedy part of town.

Bart: “Um, mom. Where are we?

Marge: “Nowhere scary” [as she hurriedly locks the car doors].

And later on in the segment when the family runs into some other non-Ethiopian characters at the restaurant:

Marge: “So did all of your cars break down?
Lisa: “Mom! They’re here on purpose. They’re foodies.

I presume that images of the neighbourhood were inspired by Los Angeles’ Little Ethiopia strip, however the details mirror similar establishments found in other metropolitan cities across North America. Fairfax Avenue/Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, the U Street corridor in Washington, D.C., and Danforth/Greenwood in Toronto. These are all small but vibrant enclaves, lined with Ethiopian restaurants, convenience stores and clubs. Continue reading


Filed under Diasporas, Ethiopia, Film review

Ahead of the Pack: ‘Town of Runners’

By Toni Weis

How could one remote little town in rural Oromia produce a range of athletes that won no less than 32 world championships and 8 Olympic gold medals? If you want to find out, go and see Town of Runners, the stunning new documentary by director Jerry Rothwell.

Over a period of three years, the film follows the lives of Alemi and Hawii, two budding local runners, and their coach, Sentayehu Eshetu. Many defining themes of today’s Ethiopia are playing out in the background: ambitious government schemes, young people seeking opportunities in the city, Chinese-built infrastructure branching out to the countryside, an exciting sense of rapid development mixed with the frustration about mind-numbing bureaucratic incompetence. But the film is at its best when it simply follows the everyday lifes of its protagonists. The portraits of the girls in particular are intimate, yet never feel intrusive or awkward. And so we get a number of privileged insights into paternal pride and teenage giddiness, homesickness and family visits, brazen ambition and small betrayals.

Like any good documentary, Town of Runners doesn’t provide closure, it just stimulates your curiosity (we don’t know if Alemi and Hawii will ever ‘make it’, but we sure would like to). It also gives you a reason to look forward to the London Olympics – go Tirunesh! – , in case you don’t have one yet. To see if Town of Runners is playing at a theatre near you (if you are in the UK, that is), click here.

… And since you’re already at it, check out Running Across Borders, the organisation co-founded by Oxford African Studies’ own Malcolm Anderson. They not only have the best NGO name since the International Potato Center was founded in 1971, they also do stellar work with promising East African athletes. And if the film inspired you, RAB will even let you train with them and put you up at their Addis Ababa campus. Sounds like a one-of-a-kind experience – as long as you’re not afraid of heights (Addis is at 7,500 ft altitude), or of being left in the dust by a bunch of 18-year olds…

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Filed under Ethiopia, Film review