I don't always hear my homeland mentioned in movies or books, but when I do, I am simultaneously over the moon and horrified. Mispronunciations galore, acknowledgements of Papua New Guinea (PNG) are usually out of context and wildly inaccurate. That's why I created the five stages of experiencing these references, which are as follows (and are also super duper scientific):
1. Disbelief. Wait, did that really just happen?
2. Confusion. How did they find out about PNG? Do they know someone from there? Why did they mention it instead of Africa? Americans love Africa.
3. Excitement. Maybe people will actually become interested in PNG now and go visit, and the economy will boom, and PNG will be able to escape from poverty, and the crime will go down! And then everyone will be like, "You're from Papua New Guinea? I know where that is and can also pronounce it correctly and also will not ask you anything about Africa because that isn't where you're from."
4. Anger. But why can't the characters in this movie/show pronounce it correctly? Surely there's a phonetic guide somewhere (here's one) that they can reference. And why is that a white guy pretending to be black? Can't they at least hire an African-American actor to portray a Papua New Guinean? It's a bit more accurate.
5. Acceptance. Whatever. Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.
It's also so fascinating when these mentions come up because it reveals people's perceptions of the country. PNG is usually referenced in relation to AIDS, cannibalism, violence or primitivism, but every once in a while, people will discuss the country's great coffee, beautiful customs and amazing scenery. So I've rounded up all the ones Google and I could muster. But first, a disclaimer: I didn't include a lot of media similar to National Geographic because that list would go on for days:
"The Royal Tenenbaums." In a scene where Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) makes out with guys from all over the world, she's depicted locking lips with a completely staged, definitely white guy wearing a fake lap-lap and headdress. I still squealed, then took a screenshot and tweeted it in my excitement.
"Princess Diaries 2." Oh, Mia Thermop (that's what I call her for short, FYI). During an I-hate-you-but-also-love-you scene with Nicholas Devereaux (a.k.a., babyfaced Chris Pine), she brags that her fiancé Andrew has a PhD in anthropology and spent four months in Papua New Guinea (which she pronounces Pap-yoo-uh New Guinea) studying the bark of the yam tree. (Side note: yams do not grow on trees but in the ground like potatoes, and also we don't call them yams, but whatevs. I'm sure fact-checking for the cinematic masterpiece "Princess Diaries 2" wasn't at the forefront of anyone's mind.)
"Mr. Pip." Yes, Dr. House played the lead in a 2012 movie set in Bougainville, a region on the far-flung island province of North Solomons. In the midst of a civil war, Hugh Laurie plays a teacher who is also the only white man on the island. In his class, they are reading "Great Expectations," and one of his students starts relating the events in the book to what's happening outside their window. I'm going to be completely honest with you: I haven't seen this movie, but I know it got "eh" reviews. Maybe because it seems like a white saviour kind of plot?
"Robinson Crusoe." This 1997 film starring Pierce Brosnan was almost an urban legend for us growing up because it was filmed in the coastal province of Madang. There are several filming locations that you can go visit, like a cave with a pool of electric eels.
"Euphoria." My husband read this book recently, so I let him write the blurb. Luke, take it away: "Euphoria" brings you in a with a sort of old-world appeal, setting itself in the early ages of anthropology. We meet a number of American and British anthropologists studying the tribes along the Sepik River. The powerful imagery of the tribes comes through unwashed, unapologetic in its portrayal of the brash warrior cultures. In addition to descriptions of the tribal practices, we also witness a theater of emotions, desire, rash decision-making and rain-dancing from the protagonists. Fiercely intellectual, the book's narrator paints a portrait of a woman based on Margaret Mead and recounts his unabashed love for her. We get a quote from Mead that I feel sums up the book pretty well: "But at the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.”
"Notes From a Spinning Planet: Papua New Guinea." Confession time: I read this book in middle school so not sure how it holds up now. (I'm assuming not well.) The book is one in a series by Melody Carlson (shoutout to all the "Diary of a Teenage Girl" — not the hipster movie but the YA Christian book series — fans). In the story, main character Maddie goes to PNG with her Aunt Sid and learns about the AIDS crisis. So, all in all, a pretty lighthearted book. I don't remember it being particularly accurate (I think Carlson tried throwing tok pisin into dialogue, which didn't turn out too well because linguistics), but it was still exciting to see an entire YA novel based around my home country, highlighting such a rampant disease there.
"The Pacific," HBO. When I watched this sequel to "Band of Brothers" in college, I kept waiting for PNG to come up, since a large portion of WWII's presence in the Pacific happened there. But when it finally did in episode 4, all of the troops just complained about the rainy weather on the island of New Britain, where Cape Gloucester was located. Here's an excerpt from the plot synopsis: "As Robert Leckie and the other Marines battle the Japanese, they quickly realize that the more ominous enemy is the smothering jungle itself." The show quickly progressed to other parts of Oceania, which was a bummer. HBO could have done so much more with PNG! They could have talked about the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels! The Kokoda Trail! The fact that the war in the Pacific WAS REPUTEDLY WON IN PNG! But whatever.
"The Straits," ABC. Following the arc of a mixed-race Papua New Guinean and Australian family, this short-lived 2012 show focused on the drug and guns trade between PNG and Australia by means of the Torres Strait in northernmost Queensland. In one scene, a man gets shot through the face with an arrow, which prompted my husband to "never want to visit there." Thanks a lot, ABC.
"The Ricky Gervais Show," HBO. In the fourth episode of the animated series, comedian Stephen Merchant talks about watching a documentary called "Tribes," part of which focuses on the Kombai people. Now, the Kombai actually live in West Papua, Indonesia, and Merchant incorrectly states that they live in PNG. But although the Kombai are technically a different nationality than Papua New Guineans, they are on the other side of the island of New Guinea, which PNG is also on, so their customs are more similar to those of PNG than the rest of Indonesia. Despite these inaccuracies, Merchant still makes some astute observations: "Papua New Guinea is an extraordinary place because it is one of the only places left on earth that hasn't been fully explored." He also briefly outlines cannibalism, the concept of payback and using pigs as currency. The whole bit is a little obnoxious, with a lot of ignorant reactions from the other cast members, but it's still amusing.
"Dangerous Grounds," The Travel Channel. Coffee is such an important part of life in PNG, and Blue Mountain Coffee is some of the best there is. This is why host Todd Carmichael was in Iloko village, located in the highlands: to sample and possibly buy their crop of Blue Mountain. In front of a curious crowd, he, with the help of some villagers, roasts, grinds, brews and tastes their product. After pronouncing it delicious, the whole village erupts into cheers. Carmichael then makes a business agreement to buy the Iloko's Blue Mountain for $100,000 per year and sell it internationally. (And yes, as someone who grew up drinking Blue Mountain, it really is that good.)
"Stuff Mom Never Told You." This feminist history podcast recently did a great episode on an anthropologist named Margaret Mead, who went to Papua New Guinea for a number of years and studied locals in PNG as well as Samoa (hence her book "Coming of Age in Samoa"). The two hosts, Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, discuss Mead's life as well as aspects of PNG culture she experienced while there.
"Dead Island." A video game that my husband briefly played with friends while he was in college, this game plops a weird zombie story into the jungles of PNG. Way to put our country in a good light, Deep Silver.
Humans of Papua New Guinea. Inspired by HONY, the one that started it all, this beautiful Facebook page is dedicated to telling the stories of Papua New Guineans from all over the country. It's so fun to read, even if you don't know much about PNG.
Have I missed anything? Leave them in the comments below, and I might add them to the post!