Without the King at Quad


A cut above the average Quad-bound video agit-prop doc, Michael Skolnik’s Without the King succeeds mostly through negative virtues. Instead of trotting out sanctimonious talking heads to explain exactly why Swaziland is more fucked up than most African countries, Skolnik goes all vérité. The problem is simple: King Mswati III uses the postcolonial bluff of “maintaining our traditions” as an excuse for not correcting anything that’s wrong with his country: His response to an AIDS crisis that has resulted in nearly 43 percent of his country’s citizens being infected, for example, is to call on all unmarried teen virgins to stay that way for five years. Intercutting footage of interviews with Mswati—either willfully clueless or just oblivious—and his luxurious palace life with the nation’s shantytowns, where citizens scour the dumps looking for discarded intestines for dinner, creates a blunt but potent dialectic. Equally enlightening is the footage of daughter Princess Sikahnyiso getting a California college education—and admiring L.A.’s most advanced boutiques as something Swaziland should strive for. Skolnik runs out of steam halfway through, and, having made its argument, the doc settles back into the traditional pathos-laden mixture of AIDS-baby footage and wailing background vocals.