Over-achieving Sophie Hewitt (19) believes she can step beyond her white privilege by volunteering in an orphanage in Uganda in her GAP year. But there she finally learns the full extent of the white-saviour complex, and her (and her father’s) inescapable part in it.
It all started with her brother’s suicide and a photograph on the fridge.
The predictable, privileged path of SOPHIE HEWITT (19) is shaken when her older brother, MATT (22), inexplicably takes his own life before graduating. Her plans for a GAP year volunteering in Africa with her best friends are cancelled, and her over-achieving path to read Law is replaced by a newfound cynicism of her friends’ superficial Gen Z activism. Her successful father who heads a UK trade delegation in the mining sector in East Africa, is desperate to see his daughter get her life back on track.
To spite him, Sophie rejects the offer to intern at a law firm of a family friend and instead temps at the UK Charity Kidzaction which sponsors African children. As her life unravels, Sophie uncovers a close friendship between her brother and a sponsored Ugandan boy, MOSES MUGISHA whose photograph has been on the fridge as long as she can remember. Sophie is disgusted by the charity’s white-saviour attitudes – the profiles are made up by temps like her, and the process of “adding the kids to your basket” on their website sickens her. But her attempt to call out the charity backfires; her sabotage of the charity’s website, needs her father’s intervention, and she inevitably falls back on her white privilege to escape arrest.
Sophie is convinced that Moses may have the answer to why Matt took his own life. Desperate to find something real and meaningful, she joins her GAP year school friends in Uganda, with a secret agenda to track down Moses to learn the truth. But there she soon realises that their voluntourism project is nothing more than the same white saviour bullshit, all built on white lies to serve the conscience of a white middle-class.
Frustrated by her powerlessness, she and her friends bite off more than they can chew when they befriend and follow the enigmatic Ugandan, Zokko Zeh to a music festival and then on to his home village across the border into the badlands of Eastern Congo. She’s shocked to discover that her brother’s friendship had ended when Moses discovered their father was the CEO of a mining conglomerate fuelling conflict in the region.
Disgusted by the impact of Western corporate greed on Zokko Zeh’s community, and her father’s part in it, she naively believes she can redress this through a small Robin Hood ransom demand and fake kidnapping. In a world constructed out of little white lies, this would be a white lie for good through which she can finally make up for her father’s actions in the region.
But the money isn’t the endgame and Zokko isn’t who he seems. The volunteers find themselves instead high-profile hostages for real – held to exchange for the imprisoned commander of their hosts-turned-captors, a Mai Mai rebel army. As the situation spirals out of control in the coltan-rich borderlands, Sophie falls back on her white privilege as she becomes a pawn in a politically charged game to force her father’s hand.
Who really needs saving in this drama which exposes how deeply entrenched the white saviour complex is, especially when pushed to its limit?