Call of Duty is being sued for portraying a dead Angolan rebel leader as a murderous halfwit

Jonas Savimbi in Call of Duty.
Jonas Savimbi in Call of Duty.
Image: Screengrab from video game
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The family of the late Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi are suing publishers of the popular video game “Call of Duty” for what they claim is a distorted representation of the man and are seeking a €1 million in damages.

Savimbi led the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a guerrilla force that battled the Angolan government in a civil war from 1975 till 1991, when he agreed to put aside his arms and enter politics. But after losing the presidential campaign a year later, he returned to the battlefield for another decade before he was killed by government forces in 2002. His death effectively ended one of the longest and deadliest civil conflicts in Africa, which claimed over 500,000 lives.

The point of contention revolves around Savimbi’s representation in the game’s 2012 “Black Ops II” iteration. As part of an attempt to rescue a character named Frank Woods, Savimbi appears in a battle scene with his UNITA rebels leading a countercharge against government soldiers, who are advancing on his position.

“If they want a fight, we give them a fight,” he declares. “Our journey to victory has begun. Death to the MPLA!,” he bellows at one point, referring to government-led forces. Later, he laughingly says to an associate, “You killed many men today. We all did.”

The lawyer for the family says this characterization misrepresents Savimbi’s role as a “political leader” and shows him as a “murderous halfwit”.

“A warlord, yes, (but) he was an important person in the Cold War, he was a friend of (Nelson) Mandela,” Carole Enfert, the Savimbi family laywer, told AFP.

But the representatives for Activision Blizzard, the people behind “Call of Duty”, dispute this suggestion. They argue that Savimbi is a hero in the game who comes in to help rescue the main characters. Plus, they say, his appearance is consistent with who he was in real life. “A character of Angolan history, a guerrilla chief who fought the MPLA,” Etienne Kowalski, a lawyer for Activision Blizzard, said to the French news agency.

This is not the first time the video game, which has generated over $11 billion in revenue since it launched in 2003, has sparked outrage for the way it portrays world leaders. In 2010, the franchise set a challenge for players to assassinate former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, to the great consternation of people in Havana. And former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega sued “Call of Duty” for defamation in 2014 for the way he was portrayed but had his case thrown out in Los Angeles.