Ever since I heard the Book of Mormon was a hilarious, blasphemous musical, I have been dying to see it. I don’t hold much with religious dogma and I couldn’t work out how a musical focussing on this unique arm of the Christian faith could ever be funny.
I’m sure you’re also wondering what the review of a West End musical is doing on a platform meant to celebrate Nigerians, but all will become clear shortly, I promise.
Oh. Spoiler alert. I will be giving you the gist on the play.
The story centres around two bright-eyed and bushy-tailed fresh graduates from the school of Mormon Missionaries being sent on their first deployment for spreading the Mormon Truth and to win souls. In their case, they are being sent to a village in Uganda.
Their first experience in the village is that their suitcases are taken at gunpoint; and the local villagers are all dressed in tattered, dirty Western wear or wrappers tied loosely on their chest.
These villagers regale the new arrivals of their woes – war, famine, pestilence, fear of military generals who cut off the female clitoris as they believe it is a dangerous thing for women to have, 80% of them all have AIDS, and many of them are in search of virgins to sleep with as they believe that this is a cure for AIDS. This ever-elusive search has forced more than one villager to attempt to rape a baby so as to be sure of its virginal state, and the village doctor has maggots in his scrotum, apparently. He reminds us of this incessantly because…well, horrific stuff, maggots in the scrotum.
The resident missionaries in the village, in comparison, struggle with more innocent difficulties – memories of a homosexual attraction, not being present while a sister died of cancer…y’know the sort of stuff that isn’t reeeeally your fault. Not like raping a baby. That’s totally your fault.
Furthermore…*cue danger music – da da daaaah!* there’s a warlord out to cut clitori (clitorises? Clitorati?) off the women in the village. There’s not a moment’s peace in war torn Uganda.
The villagers, led by the chief’s daughter are desperate for a way out of their daily drudgery, and turn to the Mormon elders. Elder Cunningham, the fat,hapless geeky Mormon decides he has a touch of jungle fever and has the hots for her but can’t be bothered to remember her name; calling the lady named Nabulungi various names including Netflix, Chaka Khan, Nutella, Nymphomaniac and Nigel Farage amongst others. Geddit? Geddit?? Cos if you’re not Tom or Sarah, anything starting with your initial will do. That or any other Black sounding word.
When the tiresome, boring verses from the actual Book of Mormon does not resonate with the villagers, the Mormon elder starts to jazz up the stories to make them more exciting, using stories to desist villagers from raping babies and shifting their attentions to sleeping with frogs and Darth Vader instead. And before you can shout “What the actual FRIG is all this racism??” you have a village full of converts begging to be baptised!
Oh, and I am sure that it would be belabouring the point at this juncture to tell you that Satan is Black.
So, here are my points:
- I was ready to walk out of the theatre 20 minutes into the production. The onslaught of racism was so glaring and relentless that it made for very uncomfortable watching a few times. I’m glad I stayed though. Not only am I glad I stayed, I would urge more black people to even go watch it! The strategy has not changed, people: in the eyes of the missionaries, the colonisers and the good people of the West, we are all clitori-chopping, baby-fucking, disease-infested savages to whom they have brought light and progress. This isn’t subtle satire or haha-hilarious comedy, this is just fact.
- The writers of this play, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are the same people who brought you South Park. They are the anti-heroes of political correctness and are known for being uniformly offensive. While I’m sure there are Mormons who would take offence to this play for obvious reasons, I’m shocked at the number of positive reviews online that show that most people are really au fait with casual racism.
- Even if I were to be objective, while the actors are stupendously talented, I really would say that the laughs were not belly-ripping bellows, more half-hearted titters. Musical number ‘Turn It Off’ is just awesome, but…yeah, that’s about it.
- Let me say that I do not deny for a second that Africa has problems. Our own precious little corner of the globe, Nigeria, is riddled with bad rulers and ignorance, but let me in that same breath say this: Oyinbos once thought the world was flat. They did not wash for months on end, dying in their thousands from preventable diseases such as dysentery, scurvy and The Black Plague. They hung women as witches if they looked funny. But they made strides and we will too. Female genital mutilation is already illegal in Nigeria as it is in Uganda, and the efficacy of contraceptives continues to spread. just leave us alone while we get on with the business of progress, yeah?
- The writers made a big production of how nonsensical the Mormon faith is – the golden plates that no living person has ever seen, Jesus using his three days in the tomb to appear to American holy men – and they also made a production of how different parts of a holy book can bring salvation. If there is anything to be learnt from this musical, it is this: a religion might not make sense on the face of it, but if it brings you solace, succour or helps you get through trying times, then it has done its job. We all need an anchor, something to believe in. One of the lines from one of the numbers stuck out at me “I am a Mormon and a Mormon just believes.” If you believe in something and your faith works for you, then have at it with all of your heart.
- “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter” – the writers of The Book of Mormon have shown us what they think of Africa, and the millions of positive reviews online have shown that the vast percentage of the Western World agree with them. It is up to us to tell OUR story, to tell of an Africa that is vibrant, that is alive, that is filled with colour, that has its own gods, goddesses and moral compass.
Which brings me roundly to Wakaa by Bolanle Austen-Peters. Our lion has learnt to write o, a Nigerian story comes to London’s West End. I am on my knees – pleading with the African population to come out in our numbers and support a feel-good play that tells OUR story. The choice is ours and the opportunity to change the writing is on the wall.
In the meantime, please may I introduce to you the real Uganda – the pearl of Africa:
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