The very first image in Netflix’s new film Close is South Sudan’s flag billowing in the wind.
Shot in Morocco, the opening scene introduces the main character, a professional bodyguard named Sam, played by actress Noomi Rapce, who accompanies two journalists across war-torn terrain in a vehicle that is ambushed by armed men.
The scene is action-packed and lasts only 4½ minutes, but it has dominated heated discussion and sparked questions about why South Sudan’s flag was used. The country has been locked in a civil war since 2013.
“If you use people’s flag, you need to talk to them to see whether you are offending them, because it is not just about leadership, it’s not just about governments, it’s about people,” said Kuir Garang, a South Sudanese-Canadian novelist living in Alberta, Canada.
Netflix did not respond to requests for comment.
Garang said he feels the internet giant owes South Sudan an explanation.
“There are many people here in Canada, in Australia, in the U.S. who use that flag. And if that flag represents terrorism, or you know, mindless violence, and is seen on the cause of people, those people can easily be associated with terrorism,” he said.
Many people also expressed their concerns on Twitter.
South Sudanese native Malith Dak Gerich, who lives and works in South Korea, said moviemakers did not consider the fact that the South Sudanese flag was a lot more than a plot object to many observers around the world.
"Looking at the movie, I cannot even go through New York City wearing anything to do with the South Sudanese flag without [fear of being] attacked or something like that," Dak said.
Garang said the larger issue is that the scene pushed a negative narrative about his country, and that Westerners should work harder to understand the context and the sensitivities of each country.
"I think people at Netflix should see that they have resources, moviemakers have resources, so what they should do is to put in resources into making research as to what is appropriate talk to the people," he said.