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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 13:11 GMT
Somalis cheer Black Hawk Down
Shot from Blackhawk down
The downing of this helicopter was an audience highlight
By the BBC's Hassan Barise in Mogadishu

Thousands of Somalis have flocked to cinemas in Mogadishu for the opening night of Black Hawk Down, the war blockbuster based on the shooting down of two US Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia in 1993.

There's not one single word of the Somali language nor Somali music, almost nothing of our culture in the movie

Movie-goer Mohamed Ali Abdi

Residents of the capital formed long queues outside more than a dozen cinema halls, jostling for the hottest ticket in town.

But they were watching pirated copies of the film and applauded when the helicopters were shot down.

In the Dualeh cinema in the Bulo Hubey neighbourhood, the capacity audience crowded onto the sandy floor, glued to director Ridley Scott's version of one the most violent episodes in the city's turbulent history.

The movie has been widely criticised for glorifying US troops while turning the Somalis themselves into violent two-dimensional caricatures.

The audience certainly gave the film a rapturous reception, but probably not for the reasons that Mr Scott intended.

Wild applause

The film centres on the real life incident in which Somali militia succeeded in shooting down two helicopters that were part of a US-led effort to help secure deliveries of food aid to war-torn Somalia.

US Blackhawk over Mogadishu
Hundreds of Somalis were wounded or killed

A rescue operation was launched by US forces, but 19 Americans soldiers died in the ensuing battle.

In Dualeh cinema, young spectators clapped and cheered every time they saw a white man killed or wounded.

The downing of each helicopter was met with even more enthusiastic applause.

"In this fighting, I lost nine of my best friends on one spot," said movie-goer Warsameh Abdi, a former militiamen fighting against the Americans under the late warlord General Mohammed Farah Aideed.

"It was that very helicopter," he said, pointing at the screen. "It hovered on top of us and shot us one by one."

Not surprisingly, some were less than impressed with the film's portrayal of the Somali people.

"There's not one single word of the Somali language nor Somali music, almost nothing of our culture in the movie," said Mohamed Ali Abdi.

"This is absurd, but still they copied our sandy streets and rough buildings and the crazy nature of the Somalis to continue the fighting," he said.

Pirated copies

Aside from critical reservations about the film, there was also scant regard for US copyright laws in its distribution.

The film was initially purchased on a pirated video cassette from the United Arab Emirates, watched at ten US cents per ticket in three cinema halls.

According to the Dualeh cinema owner, Mr Shukeh, it was then copied again and redistributed to all of Mogadishu's remaining cinemas. Tickets for the re-copied version went for five cents a head.

Josh Hartnett in Blackhawk Down
The film is accused of exaggerating US heroism

Mr Shukeh said each copy cost about 100,000 shillings, or about $5, to make.

The only real-life reminder of the incident in Mogadishu are the last few rusting remains of one of the helicopters, which still lie among the cactuses.

The shell lies next to the house of the Weheliye family, who say they lost seven members on 3 October 1993, when the US troops arrived.

The buildings around the Olympic Hotel, where much of the fighting was concentrated, have been rebuilt but the streets remain as dusty as ever.

And Mogadishu residents continue their struggle to move from decades of conflict to some semblance of peace.

Black Hawk Down certainly amused the crowds, but told no one anything they did not know already.

See also:

22 Jan 02 | Film
US attacks 'could be filmed'
21 Jan 02 | Reviews
Black Hawk Down: Your views
18 Jan 02 | Reviews
Black Hawk focuses on war
21 Dec 01 | Africa
Somalia's role in terror
23 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Somalia
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