“Over the winter, Emily and I were playing, and she has a fixation on princesses. She asked me, in all seriousness, if she’d be a real princess someday,” Mr Heaton said. “And I said she would.”
Last year, the story broke about a doting father who, for his daughter’s birthday, made her wish to become a “real life princess” come true – by scouring the earth for an “unclaimed” spot that he could gift his daughter. Luckily for him (and his princess), he found a piece of land called Bir Tawil on the border between Sudan and Egypt, planted a flag he made special for the occasion, and dubbed it: the Kingdom of North Sudan.
Well, not everyone. In the actual North Sudan, we were confused. Is this real? Did The Telegraph miss the satire in the newest Onion post? Trepidation ensued. But after Newsweek and Time ran the story, it was clear that this was not a joke. We laughed anyway. Ha ha ha. Silly khawajat.
In the past couple of days, this story has resurfaced, with some interesting developments, including a Disney movie deal. The entertainment giant is planning to make a film based on the story of Heaton and his princess, under the working title “The Princess of North Sudan” (I’m giving them some leeway here by saying ‘working title’, a term Disney did not have the decency to use). According to the Hollywood Reporter, “the studio is focusing on the relationship between the father and daughter set against a backdrop of a fantastical adventure”. A-ha.
As you can imagine, this particular development has sparked quite an outrage on social media (shoutout to Black and Sudani Twitter). I could go in on Disney, on how it’s perpetuating the imperialist mindset it’s so known for, on how supremely ludicrous it is to even entertain the idea of making this story into a movie (because I’m still lowkey waiting for someone to yell PUNKD!), or on how calling a little girl from America with zero Sudani heritage the Princess of North Sudan is shitting on Sudanese history and people, or making Disney’s first African princess that isn’t an animal a little white girl from America with zero African heritage is shitting on African descendants everywhere, OR EVEN the idea that this movie is set “against a backdrop of a fantastical adventure” is bullshit and not a get out of jail free card because it ISN’T fantastical, because it’s REAL and it’s HAPPENING and not, as their language implies, fiction.
But I won’t. Because folks have covered that already, but also because what I want to address something else. So instead, I’ll just share these screenshots from the #PrincessofNorthSudan hashtag. Consider them an interlude.
A lot of people are arguing that all this hoopla is silly. I mean, no one wants the land, right? It’s empty. No one lives there. Who cares if he claimed it for his daughter? This isn’t about race. The man gave his daughter a birthday gift. Since when was that illegal?
And I agree, fully. Don’t be mad ’cause your dad doesn’t even remember your birthday. Let the man make his baby happy. Yes, let him. Let’s take a closer look at how he’s making his baby happy:
Heaton is offering a range of incentives for donations: from honorary titles of nobility ($25) and your face on any eventual national currency ($50,000), to naming rights for any future international airport ($1.5m) and capital city ($1.75m).
“We could’ve sold thousands and thousands of honorary titles of nobility and simply pocketed the money,” Heaton said. “[But] we’re interested in … improving the world that we live in.”
It turns out, King Heaton is launching the Kingdom of North Sudan as the first crowdfunded nation in history (Oh, but when we ask for money we’re lazy moochers and beggars, right?). Princess Emily and her father plan to turn the kingdom into a research facility to address agricultural development, with a greater goal of ending world hunger. The new royals’ planned world’s largest agricultural research initiative sits on, and I quote, “a beautiful arid desert”. Let me say that again.
They want to build. An agricultural facility. In a desert.
With your money, might I add! They want to spend crowdfunding money on an agricultural facility that is going to be fed on a limited supply of fossilized groundwater. Mama, help me out with this one. Mama, doesn’t limited mean it will eventually finish? Then what? They gonna move south? Heaton’s argues that actually, Bir Tawil’s groundwater is fed by Lake Nasser, and “insists the kingdom wouldn’t put excessive strain on this resource”. In a very Disney way, he completely ignores not only the possibility of him being epically wrong, but also how sensitive the issue of Nile water is in the area.
But this isn’t the only way King Heaton dismisses the facts. Contested land, uninhabited land, ‘no man’s land’ does not mean unclaimed land. With that in mind, when confronted with Alex de Waal’s statements about the possibility that – and I’m paraphrasing – shit could get REALLY real once Sudan and Egypt realize that this isn’t a joke, he responds:
“That’s where your academics are wrong and they don’t understand the situation,” he said.
Oh, okay then.
Heaton said the measures he has taken so far – declaring sovereignty; forging diplomacy – are in accordance with international law and his forthcoming fundraising will facilitate further progress. “The next step that’s required by law is to occupy the land,” he said. “And we’ve not been able to do that because the conditions that exist in north Sudan are so tough.” He added he has heard no objections from Egypt or Sudan and believes they will recognise the potential for employment, infrastructure and other regional benefits.
Everyone is so busy arguing about how cute and harmless and not colonialist he is that they failed to spot how infantile he is. “They will recoginize the potentional for employment and other regional benefits”? In this spindly strip of desolate desert? How? Are you serious right now? Is this the thought process with which you hope to rule a nation? Why no one is laughing this man out of life I don’t know.
The fact is, this whole thing is stupid. I won’t use a better term because there is no better term. This is a man with little understanding of regional (or global) history and politics who thought it would be nifty to make his daughter a “real princess” and be featured on his local news station. Then (I’m hoping) when it hit him that not everyone was “awww”ing at his antics, tried to yghalifa [wrap it] in a pseudo-altruistic trash bag in an attempt to cover up the inaneness of his claim, plan, dream, gift, or whatever you wish to call it. Then he got that Disney money and at that point I’m pretty sure he stopped caring about anything. If he ever did at all.
And on that note, I’m going to go. Law and Order is on. It’s the episode about the Sudanese refugee.