January 24, 2002
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The images projected onto a wall were blurred and the sound wobbly, but there was no mistaking it was a bootleg version of the film Black Hawk Down -- especially when the young Somali men in the audience jumped up and cheered after an American helicopter was hit by Somali gunmen and crashed.
"The movie is good but overdramatized," said Warsameh Abdi from his spot on the sandy ground in the makeshift, open-air Dualeh Cinema.
The film, based on the book by Mark Bowden, recounts the Oct. 3, 1993, mission by U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators to capture senior aides to Mohamed Farah Aidid, then a top warlord in Somalia.
Eighteen American soldiers -- and hundreds of Somalis -- died before the mission in the heart of Mogadishu was aborted.
"In this fighting, I lost nine of my best friends in one spot," Warsameh said Tuesday as hundreds of men and a few women crowded into theaters throughout the Somali capital, paying the equivalent of 5 cents to watch bad copies of the pirated version of the movie released in the United States on Jan. 18.
"It was that very helicopter," the man in his mid 20s said above the din, pointing to the Black Hawk moving across the wall. "It hovered on top of us, and shot us, one by one. I got wounded, but the others died."
Although the young men cheered whenever an American was hit, there was no reaction when a Somali character went down.
Much of the film was shot in Morocco, and no Somali actors were used.
"The reality of the Somali character is captured in this movie," said Mohamed Ali Abdi, who had been living at Bar Ubah junction, where the battle took place. "But there is not a single word of the Somali language, no Somali music, nothing of our culture. This is absurd, but still they reproduced our sandy streets and battered buildings and the crazy way Somalis just kept on fighting."
The film's "premiere" in Somalia comes when U.S. attention is again focused on the impoverished nation. After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush added Al-Itihaad al-Islami, a Somali Islamic group, to the list of terrorist organizations with alleged ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
Somali refugees living in the United States have called for a boycott of the movie.
"The Somali people are depicted as very savage beasts without any human element," said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, Minn. "We don't know what Americans will think of us Somalis after they watch this movie."
Jamal said at least 25,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, the largest U.S. contingent.
"The community is shocked and really afraid of the consequences of this movie," Jamal said. He called the movie a "big psychological setback" to the group's efforts to demonstrate to Americans that the Somali community supports the war against terrorism.
Now, the buildings on Hawlwadig Road have been patched up and painted over. But the streets are as sandy and dusty as ever.
The wreckage in the middle of a cactus patch of one of two downed Black Hawks is the only physical reminder of the battle.