After bagging an Oscar in The Last King of Scotland – a movie steeped in controversy over the negative portrayals of Africa as the savage or dark continent – Forest Whitaker is yet again on to something even more infamous – painting the ancient West African religion of Voodoo as ‘horror’ and ‘evil’.

Together with Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, and Sanaa Lathan, they cut a sorry cast ready to lay down every legacy, pride and education left in them, for this ‘Voodoo Horror’ called Vipaka.

Written by Shin Shimosawa, the story follows a severely disturbed contractor 
(Forest Whitaker), husband to Sanaa Lathan, who seeks help from a life coach (Anthony Mackie). What begins as an honest therapy session becomes a twisted and dangerous psychological game, when he abducts the life coach and uses his spiritual messages to terrorize him and his family.

What is a Voodoo Horror? Probably, a term coined by a few people out there who lack any real sense of creativity. Except for the huge financial benefits, the premise for such stories and the profits thereof are tied in with preying on certain misguided Western perceptions of Africa. The oxymoron in Voodoo Horror, only offers Western viewers an orgasm about African savagery.

Like the misrepresentations of the uncivilized African in movies like Blood Diamond and The Last King Of Scotland, Voodoo Horror makes absolutely no sense. But it is a term ripe for abuse since it feeds into the mystery of the uncouth and evil African religion learned from the prejudiced Christian missionaries of old Europe.

Maybe co-producer and actor of Vipaka, Forest Whitaker, sees something we don’t see. Probably, like the great number of people out there, especially those living outside the confines of a good traditional African or African-Diaporan upbringing, he lacks a key understanding that witchcraft is as different from Voodoo, as it is different from Christianity, Islam and any other religion in the world.

When a horror movie like the Exorcist or Rite is made (horror movies concerning Christianity), the distinction between evil and good, witchcraft and Christianity, Satan and God, are clearly made, so ignorant people don’t confuse the two. But somehow, filmmakers who seem to find their way into Voodoo territory and the making of Voodoo films refuse to make that much needed distinction. And the African filmmakers of Nollywood/Ghana fame are equally to blame for these senseless misrepresentations.

The term Voodoo Horror is wrong not only because it supposes that Voodoo is horror, evil, uncouth, unsophisticated, and on and on, but it insults the entire African Establishment of the religion and its branch Institutions in the Diaspora – that if it’s evil, then good (Western religions, i.e. Christianity) must triumph over it. It is not very different from the ‘civilizing’ and ‘needing of a savior’ European perspective and mission in West Africa some four centuries ago that hugely contributed to the cruelties of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

So, I am surprised that cast and crew of Voodoo Horror prospect, Vipaka – notably, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps and Sanaa Lathan – have found their way into Louisiana – a state celebrated especially in New Orleans, for retaining the Voodoo religious heritage from West Africa. I am surprised because this largely African-American cast should know better!

Is there any such thing as a Christian Horror or a Moslem Horror? No! Why a Voodoo Horror? Any way we look at it, there’s no place on earth that Forest Whitaker, Shin Shimosawa (writer) or Phillipe Caland (director) and his cronies would be allowed to lambast Christianity or Islam.

But, they get their way with Voodoo. Maybe with good-intent. But the storyline in Vipaka is a culprit in our long and torrid struggle to painting an objective picture of Africa, the Diaspora, and people of African descent in the popular media at large. African history and for that matter, Black history, is already warped and the images so distorted that it will take years of dedicated correction or rather rebuilding to break the foundations of the current parochial representations of them in the popular media. So why would the very same people it negatively portrays encourage such senseless genres of film?

Gone were the days when people cried ignorant, and Kunta cruelly amputated for picking up a book. Today – with wikipedia floating around in cyber space, books roaring their ugly heads in public libraries, universities calling out for the uneducated, Amazon suggesting to you what you might want to read, and Oprah making a book list I doubt she reads, nonetheless should be commended for making them – the floodgates of learning are kicked wide open notwithstanding the financial barrier. Then again, for folks like Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps and Sanaa Lathan it is a barrier that is doubly surmountable.

I need not give a lesson on what Voodoo is or is not! Nor do I need to show that it is the most ancient religion on the planet. Neither need I say that it is in fact the officially recognized national religions of two Black States in the United Nations, Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Haiti.

Needless to say that Voodoo, meaning spirit and soul in Ewe – the basic ethos of the religion – preaches that everything in the universe is connected; that nothing happens by chance – there are no accidents; that everything that you do to one person, you are doing to yourself, because you are that person – exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ in both Voodoo and Christianity summed up in the ‘whole duty of man’ – love your neighbor as thyself! Except Voodoo predates Christianity and any source of it thereof.

Hence before they would have finished shooting this movie in New Orleans, I hope cast and crew would have considered what the more than 100 million folks in West Africa, and the Diaspora who practice Voodoo would think; I hope they would have thought about what the many more millions who practice Condomblé in Brazil would say; and the many more who practice Obeah in the Caribbean would think of the gross misrepresentations and perpetuations of ignorance surrounding their sacred religion.

This is not a rhetoric on Africanism, it is a simple courtesy call that begs filmmakers out there to respect all religions, African religions included.

Above all what kind of message are these respected African American cast sending about Africa’s most formidable religion and a New Orleans’ heritage to the next generation of black children? Be careful what you teach us, our children point this finger at all of us! We have to take responsibility. Because, there’s something called culture and legacy, you know – it’s not easy to come by, especially when your culture and traditions have been trampled on for more than four centuries – and it is not all measured in lands and gold. I rest my case.


  1. Love this commentary. I ignorantly didn’t even realize that The Last King of Scotland could be offensive, wow thanks. I will be looking at many movies with a different eye now.

  2. Glad you like it. I hope we can start putting ourselves in others shoes and say, ‘if I were a citizen of Uganda, would I appreciate my country portrayed like that?’ The discussions have also made me more aware.

  3. The bigger question is, were the events in “The Last King of Scotland” historically accurate? From what I remember at the time, it was not only generally accurate (composite main character notwithstanding), but was well received in Uganda. One could hardly argue that Idi Amin’s legacy had been slandered.

  4. Truthful films about unpleasant past events should not be seen as controversial. And to answer your question, yes, I would want my country portrayed that way…if it were true. Daylight is always a cure for inconvenient truths, hiding and sweeping truths under the rug only breeds lies and conspiracy theories.

  5. The countries in Africa are always portrayed the same way. We in the West start to think that is the only story that exist in Africa which is why it’s lie which is why I can totally see how The Last King of Scotland as offensive.

    The Last King of Scotland is a lie of omission. You can present all the facts and still be lying.

  6. Also I think African-Americans suffer from “I have a black girlfriend so of course I can’t be racist” syndrome, in regards to we feel as if we can’t possibly be racist or hold prejudice feelings in regards to Nigerians or Ugandans or Ghanians, because we’re African too. While that’s not bad to have a we’re all united perspective it tends to close people’s ears and minds. You tend to not listen when you are under the arrogant perspective that you already know.

  7. I agree. The images of Africans in Hollywood are one-sided. I can’t think of any movie I’ve seen that was positive. Just war and genocide. And it’s hard to justify making fun of religion in any movie.

  8. If you’re arguing that Africa is not portrayed in a positive light, I agree with you. I would love to see more positive movies about Africa. But does that mean we sweep all unpleasant truths under the rug to present the image you would prefer to see?

    • A movie’s truthfulness should be evaluated on its own merits, not on the merits of movies that came before it. Was the movie poorly acted? Were the events portrayed untrue? Were individuals or the culture slandered? Never mind what has happened in other movies, did any of the above happen in this movie?

      And “lie of omission? What was omitted, the pleasant aspects of Idi Amin’s rule? If you’re going to drop a statement like that, at least provide examples.

  9. I’m not talking about just that movie. I’m talking about all the movies that are made about Africa. We have lots of stories about countries in Africa made in the West 100% of them are negative. That’s the lie of omission I’m talking about.

    I was so happy when I found this magazine:
    And Oroma from

    Everyone I meet from Africa is 180 degrees different than what is being portrayed, so it just goes to the question what exactly is up with the US media and movies that they seem to be so completely out of touch with all but one facet of African life?

  10. You’ve missed my point entirely. I am talking about just that movie. It was well made and historically accurate. The fact that it may have deepened some people’s stereotypes about Africa is regrettable. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been made. Whitewashing ugly truths is just as bad as creating ugly lies.

  11. ‘Last King of Scotland’ was in fact a narrow minded viewpoint on Ugandan history and Dada Idi Amin’s rule. If you would be happy to check, Uganda had a better Quality of Life Index (HDI) under Dada than under any democratically elected President of Uganda. This is the part that +Lark Fleming and +Faraa Belle are talking about – the lie of omission. No?

  12. 1. The Quality of Life Index and the Human Development Index are not the same thing, although there is overlap.

    2. The HDI was invented in 1990.

    3. There have only been two democratically elected presidents of Uganda. Obote, Amin’s predecessor, was elected but eventually suspended the constitution and devolved into a brutal dictator. When Amin took over, the populace was initially optimistic; at that point anything must have looked like an improvement. Things may well have improved initially. Also, some may have believed the expulsion of the Indians would improve their lot. This optimism did not last (see below).
    The second elected (and current) president, Museveni(sp?) has also twisted the constitution to suit his needs, but has also improved life expectancy, per capita GDP, AIDS, inflation and paid down international debt (Amin did none of these things).
    Nonetheless, I would like to see your citation that says the the quality of life improved under Amin.

    4. The economy of Uganda grew throughout the 60’s into the early 70’s. By the time Amin fled in 1979, the economy was less than 80% what it was in 1970. Industry was reduced by 70%. Amin virtually destroyed the economy; he appropriated many industries and foreign investment disappeared. Much of Uganda’s industry was controlled by the Indians that were expelled. Their property was largely stolen by the military instead of redistributed to society at large.
    By the time Amin fled, just about the only thing left was subsistence farming and smuggling. Mining and manufacturing had all but ceased. Tourism, a major source of cash before Amin, completely dried up.

    5. Amin and his security forces killed, kidnapped or disappeared hundreds of thousands of people for political, ethnic, religious, and imagined reasons. Even if he somehow managed to double life expectancy and GDP, this would still be a dealbreaker for virtually any sane person. Would you chose to live under those circumstances?

    6. I make no claim of expertise on Uganda. I just enjoy foreign cultures and a good read. As to the “untold story” of Uganda, I can only share with you personal anecdotes of interactions with Ugandans, most of which have been quite pleasant. But that does not change the fact that, from 1971 to 1979, Uganda experience a large, violent, eccentric leap backwards.

  13. I must say, this is an opinion well defended. Where did you get all this stuff from? UNDP? It’s interesting reading 🙂 I am overwhelmed perhaps, and I think when we do have a post concerning The Last King Of Scotland and or such issues concerning foreign cultures, your opinion will be much welcome. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Are you aware of the meaning and source of the word Vipaka ? Why is it that a film set in New Orleans is automatically expected to have Voodoo ? This film is southern gothic
    sans Voodoo with an awesome African-American cast. Not a coon, mammy, mulatto or
    or buck image in this script. A psychological and spirited journey of redemption, revenge and recognition
    . Check out that Tim Burton produced” Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter ” travesty.
    It recently finished shooting in New Orleans. Why it even has a high yellow Harriet Tubman.

  15. I are not aware of the meaning of the name Vipaka. Perhaps, you care to enlighten us about it. In any case, the little information available about the story line is exactly this, that it is a voodoo horror.

    Nothing wrong with making a voodoo movie, only that a clear distinction between good and evil, voodoo and the wicked, voodoo and witchcraft has to be made. When this is done, it will not be an affront to the religion or portray the people who practice it as evil black people.


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