New documentary starring Idris Elba focuses on gold’s history, impact

14th November 2023 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Senior Contributing Editor Online

New documentary starring Idris Elba focuses on gold’s history, impact

Documentary screening in Johannesburg
Photo by: Creamer Media's Tasneem Bulbulia

Industry organisation the World Gold Council (WGC) has released a new documentary, titled ‘Gold: A Journey with Idris Elba’, created in partnership with Pioneer Productions.

The documentary was commissioned to support the WGC in its ambition to help the world understand the value of gold.

Speaking to Mining Weekly on November 14, WGC CFO Terry Heyman explains that the organisation has released many reports about economic significance of the sector, such as the $57-billion spent on communities and countries where gold mining occurs in 2022, and a documentary was perceived as ideal for such messages to reach a broader audience, and to start a dialogue around this.

It would also inform them of how the sector has changed and what modern gold mining looks like currently, as well as the positive role it plays globally, he adds. 

In the documentary, movie star Elba explores the history of gold, as well as the relationships and impacts engendered from this precious metal – spanning from beauty, to health, community, power, sustainability, technology and financial security.

The documentary takes a global view, visiting strategic gold mining locations to showcase how the precious metal has shaped these regions, as well as future endeavours. This entails considerable coordination, with Heyman highlighting that member companies were actively involved, and supportive of production occurring at their mining sites.

In Canada, Elba travels 3.2 km underground to witness how ore is mined, and on the surface, observes the separation of gold from the ore via chemical extraction and then watches it being produced into a $1-million gold bar. 

The versatility of gold is highlighted at a wedding in India, with it standing as symbol of beauty, purity and financial security, and the precious metal also playing a pivotal role in the ceremony. 

In Ghana, Elba gets in touch with his heritage (his mother is Ghanaian), and unpacks how gold has lifted the Ashanti region economically and how it serves as a symbol of power and spirituality for its king and chiefs.

In the US, it shows how the 1800s gold rush transformed the region that is now San Francisco, and how this also benefited other industries, such as stimulating demand for Levi’s jeans, owing to their durability for miners.

In South Africa, it delves into gold’s role as the “engine” of the Apartheid economy, the dire working conditions of Black workers and how they used their striking power to bring this industry to a halt and deal a blow to the regime.

It also touches on how the country’s energy challenges are being mitigated by gold mining companies through renewable energy.

The documentary also looks at how automation is driving safety and gender parity in the South African gold mining industry.

Meanwhile, energy sustainability is further explored in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the hydropower being harnessed by Barrick Gold’s Kibali mine is shown, with power also being supplied to the surrounding community, which is expected to continue even after the mine closes.

In New Zealand, the documentary focuses on a different facet of sustainability, demonstrating how a closed mine is returned to nature, with the Reefton mine regeneration.

When the mine closed in 2016, it was filled with water and turned into a lake, and the focus is now on hydroseeding – planting up the area with native seeds to create a new ecosystem.

Once more in Ghana, the documentary delves into malaria control efforts initiated by a mine, with this programme having grown considerably and now supporting over a million people, with the aim to ultimately eradicate this threat.

The documentary also touches on gold’s role in medical advancements, such as gold nanoparticles used in lateral flow tests; as well as the precious metal being used a key element in electronics.

The documentary also provides a look into one of the gold vaults of the Bank of England, and unpacks how the precious metal provides consistent financial security.

Here, Elba views one of the bank’s nine vaults containing a combined 400 000 gold bars valued at about £250-billion. This is the second largest gold depository globally and it stores gold for countries globally.

Heyman emphasised the importance of the role that central banks play in the gold market.

He highlights that they continue to be the leading buyers of gold. “This year has been a very strong year for central bank gold demand, and this is another important part of the overall gold story that is not widely understood.

Central banks, who are responsible for looking after the economic wellbeing of nations, continue to invest in gold, particularly emerging economies, which demonstrates the importance and relevance of gold,” he highlights.

Also in London, the documentary explores the role of gold jewellery for hip-hop artists, with it serving as both a status symbol and tangible investment.

With a large percent of the world’s gold reserves already identified, the documentary visits Peru to look at a future gold discovery, where technology and satellite imaging are used to find new gold seams.

During a press screening of the documentary in Johannesburg, on November 13, with industry stakeholders, the importance of showcasing this documentary was underscored, with it aiming to outline the positives that gold has provided. The resilience of gold was also highlighted.  

“I feel very thankful to have been able to experience what gold means to people, what gold means to history and also to tradition. Gold has the power to transform. I’ve learnt so much about gold that wasn’t obvious or expected and now my eyes have been opened which is a wonderful thing,” Elba said in a statement.  

The documentary is currently available on YouTube, where it has been streaming since last month. Heyman highlights that feedback has been “very positive” thus far, with responders noting new awareness of the industry and how it has evolved, as well as the diversified role gold plays in the world.

Some responders have questioned why illegal and artisanal mining was not touched on in the documentary. Heyman explains that the WGC wanted the film to focus on responsible mining, with there being a lack of awareness about what this is.

However, he emphasises that the organisation has undertaken considerable research in this area and is continuing to engage the World Bank and other organisations on joint projects for these development issues.