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Film / General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

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A legend in his own mind.

General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait (French title: Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait) is a 1974 documentary about the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, whose reign from 1971 to 1979 led to the death of hundred of thousands of Ugandans. Often considered one of the more bizarre dictators of the world, Amin was seen as a curiosity within the then-normal binary of capitalist and communist nations, being not quite pro-capitalist and not quite pro-communist.

At first glance, this documentary doesn't seem all that special, given how plenty of other documentaries have covered Amin’s reign of terror, and with more in-depth coverage of the situation than this one. However, this one has a twist: Not only was it filmed in Uganda during the time of Amin’s rule, but it was fully approved by Amin himself. In fact, most of the film is spent focusing on the General, following him around at affairs both personal and public as he gives his world views on the various African and world powers. This access allowed the documentary to get up close and personal to Amin, who emerges as quite an... interesting individual.

This film provides examples of:

  • The '70s: The film was made in 1974, which becomes more noticeable with the mentioning of the Watergate Scandal and the Munich Massacre of 1972.
  • Accidental Misnaming: During the conference with the doctors, one of the doctors accidentally calls the leader of his medical organization "the President"; under Amin's rule, only he could be referred to as such. Though the doctor corrects himself and Amin seemingly laughs it off, Amin's expression seems to suggest the slip of the tongue may have been more damaging to him than he let on.
  • Affably Evil: The documentary paints Amin as this. The General never comes off as disrespectful to anyone and is polite even when criticizing some of his ministers. Whether this is what's Beneath the Mask or merely a part of a Faux Affably Evil persona can not be fully determined.
  • Animal Motifs: Amin admires the lion, the crocodile and the elephant as symbols of Africa, saying that they all represent strength and freedom for the African people.
  • Asian Store-Owner: One of Amin's first policies was to eject all the Asian business owners that had settled in Uganda during the British's colonial rule. This led to an immediate economic collapse because the Asians took their business expertise and money with them when they left.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Amin is still in power by the end of the film, and he doesn't seem any more sane by the film's end.
  • The Beastmaster: Claiming to be this, Amin demonstrates his power by commanding a crocodile lying on the bank to move. It does not.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Amin consistently claims that Uganda has vastly improved since his ascent to leadership three years before, but it becomes clear throughout the documentary that the country is extremely economically depressed.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Assuming his Affably Evil personality is true, this can apply to Amin. He never comes off as mean or cruel towards anybody he interacts with, but he's more than willing to make you "disappear" if you push him.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Despite his laughable leadership and comically crazy outlooks on the world, Amin is also the leader of a nation and the guy who can "remove" you if you rub him the wrong way.
  • The Caligula: Between his brutality and his... unique perspective, Amin is a classic example.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: It becomes pretty apparent throughout the documentary that General Amin has some pretty "out there" ideas.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Some of the many odd ideas Amin has are his beliefs in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, with him going so far as to claim that the Jews are poisoning the Nile.
  • Documentary of Lies: Interestingly averted. Amin largely gave his blessing to the film because he hoped it would demonstrate his power and make the world come to respect him more. This is why a good portion of the film is him demonstrating his military and talking about his views on various world powers. However, the film's director added narration that clarified certain events and showed that many of the things in the film were fabricated specifically for the film.
  • Downer Ending: Though the film ends with a moment of weakness for Amin, he suffers no other difficulties throughout the film. He's still ruler of Uganda, he'll still go on oppressing his people, and he shows no signs of adjusting his leadership. Nothing has changed, and that suits Amin just fine.
  • Face–Heel Turn: From the Israeli perspective. Having originally fought for Britain when they ruled over Uganda, he had essentially been fighting on the side of one of Israel's most powerful allies. Come Uganda's independence and his subsequent rise to power, he was now supporting Palestine and trying to make plans for ousting the Jews out of Israel.
  • Fat Bastard: Given how rotund he is and the fact that he caused the death of thousands, Amin can qualify as this.
  • Fed to the Beast: The likely reason the foreign minister is found dead in The Nile, as many crocodiles live there and could dispose of his body.
  • Foreshadowing: An odd example, as it's an unintentional foreshadow of a real event. In the film, Idi Amin remarks that Palestinian terrorists who hijacked Israeli planes would be welcome to land in Uganda. This would eventually occur two years later, leading to the famous Raid on Entebbe.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Amin was born to a poor Ugandan family in the 1920s, joining the African regiment of the British Army shortly after World War II. A few conflicts later and after Uganda had achieved independence from Britain, he was able to work himself up to Commander of the entire Ugandan Army. He was then able to wrest control of Uganda from Milton Obote and begin his reign of terror.
  • The Generalissimo: Arguably one of the Trope Codifiers; rarely is there a scene where Amin isn't decked out in military garb and spouting his bizarre philosophy.
  • General Ripper: Amin has an abnormal obsession with destroying Israel, performing war simulations of invading the Golan Heights and ranting about the Jews' plot to poison the Nile River.
  • Greedy Jew: Amin characterizes the Israelis as this, saying that they came into Palestine as refugees, but forced the Palestinians out because of their natural greediness and desire to control Jerusalem.
  • Kick the Dog: Shortly after the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Amin sent a telegram to Kurt Waldheim (Secretary of the United Nations) that applauded the Palestinians for their killings and even claimed that Adolf Hitler had been right to kill many Jews.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Amin largely comes off as this, constantly berating his ministers about how they're not doing the right things and are making the country look bad. However, his claims that he helped the Ugandan economy by throwing out the Asians and that the British are starving more than his own people make him look foolish at best and downright delusional at worst.
  • Large Ham: You can tell Amin is really playing things up for the camera.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Most portions of the film are just long-held shots of Amin rambling about whatever subject he's on, from the evils of Israel to his perspective on the Cold War.
  • Massively Numbered Siblings: Amin has 18 children by 4 different women.
  • Never My Fault: From Amin's perspective, Uganda is perfect just the way it is (despite the obvious economic downturn). Even if he acknowledges any problems, he always seems to push the blame onto his ministers and fellow countrymen.
  • No Ending: The film doesn't really have a firm series of events or climax, so it pretty much just stops instead of building up to anything.
  • No-Sell: The crocodile Amin commands to move turns out to be this, giving less credence to Amin's claimed influence upon animals.
  • Parental Neglect: Amin seems guilty of this. When showing off his children to the filmmakers, he only refers to them by their age and as "this one" or "that one". When one of his infant daughters starts crying, he simply wanders away from her to immediately continue his interview.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Definitely the "Bad" flavor; all of the nationalism portrayed here is in policies killing thousands of Ugandans and planning a war with Israel.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Amin is proudly anti-Semitic and despises the Asian business owners he deported.
  • Polyamory: Amin had 4 wives and 18 children at the time this film was made.
  • Protagonist Title: Idi Amin is the main focus of the film.
  • Scary Black Man: Tall? Check. Former heavyweight boxer? Check. Black? Check. Able to order the deaths of thousands and get away with it? Definitely.
  • Seers: Amin fancies himself as one, saying that he can know things going on in Uganda hours before they occur and that he can predict when armed conflicts will break out around the world. He even claims that the reason he's so willing to go walking around with his people is that he knows they won't kill him, since he knows the exact date of his death. And this is one of the least crazy things he says...
  • The Starscream: Amin was this before he was ruler, serving as the commander of the Ugandan Army and a staff member of Uganda's previous dictator, President Milton Obote. However, Amin was able to pull off a successful military coup and oust Obote from power, ascending to the position himself.
  • Take a Third Option: In his interview, Amin says that both capitalism and communism are flawed systems, and that he is trying to utilize the best aspects of both in order to build up the Ugandan economy. It doesn't appear to be working.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Amin's attitude toward Great Britain. Uganda had been a colony under Great Britain, but had managed to achieve independence around 10 years earlier to this film's production. So great is his hatred that Amin swears that he'll never forgive Great Britain unless the then-British Prime Minister Edward Heath personally comes to Uganda and delivers a formal apology to Amin.
  • Tranquil Fury: When talking about his hatred of Israel, Amin never raises his voice or acts outright angry, but it is extremely clear that there's an underlying rage.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Amin comes off as either a Consummate Liar or extremely delusional. Neither choice makes him entirely trustworthy in regards to his tales.
  • Unusual Euphemism: When showing off his numerous children, the General says that he has so many because he "has good aim".
  • Villain Protagonist: The most a homicidal dictator could be called a "Protagonist".
  • Water Source Tampering: One scene has Amin claim that the Nile river is being poisoned by the Jews.
  • Wham Shot: The final shot of the film. Throughout the film, Amin has either been politely serious or jovial; either way, it always seems like he's in control of both his emotions and his country (because he is). However, the final shot (a close-up of Amin's face at the doctor's conference) shows him looking worried and possibly even scared. It's a far cry from the confident man seen throughout the film, suggesting that perhaps not even he is totally sure of his own personal abilities.
  • You Have Failed Me: Presumably the reason the foreign minister was found dead, as Amin had been criticizing him for not living up to his position.