Pride in a Gem

Detective series shines positive light on Botswana
May 22, 2009

The HBO miniseries The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has been a boon toward helping the people of Botswana launch a fledging film industry in that southern Africa country, the Anglican bishop of Botswana says.

The series, based on Alexander McCall Smith's book of the same title and nine subsequent novels, is being shown Sunday nights on HBO. All episodes are available on HBO on Demand.

Bishop Musonda T.S. Mwamba, who has a role in the series, said he hoped it would open viewers' minds and change attitudes about how people regard Africa. His comments appear in a 30-minute program, Botswana: The Gem of Africa, that introduces the series to viewers, explaining the history of the country that gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966. Interviewed with the bishop were politicians, artists, singers, musicians and dancers, as well as the cast members, all of whom are black.

"With the filming set here in Botswana, many of those who have not had the opportunity of knowing about Mma Ramotswe through the books will now see her on the screen," the bishop said. "And I think it will draw a lot of attention to this beautiful country."

"We will have employed this year about 2,500 local people -- that's mainly extras," said the director, Anthony Minghella. He said 52 local actors were hired to help fill the 90 speaking roles in the series.

More than a decade ago, in the midst of a career as a distinguished bioethicist, Smith held himself to a promise to write, as he since has put it, "a book about a cheerful woman of traditional build."

Set in Botswana, where he used to teach law, Smith's novel features heroine Precious Ramotswe, a 35-year-old divorced woman who leaves her rural home to set up shop as a private investigator in the capital city, Gaborone. Smith's books have been translated into more than 40 languages, with more than 15 million copies sold in English.

"I would hope the American audience will look at these films and say, 'This is ordinary life as it is anywhere,'" said Smith in The Gem of Africa.


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