On Monday, the documentary Invisible Children exploded the Internet and got everyone talking.
Since its debut, over 40 million people have seen the film, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve seen a tweet, Facebook status, or news report about it. Celebrities from Rihanna to Ryan Gosling to Oprah all jumped on the Kony 2012 bandwagon, urging their millions of followers to watch the video and take action.
But just as quickly as people sent emails, wrote Facebook messages, retweeted, and started fundraising campaigns, others questioned the motives of the filmmakers and their charity Invisible Children.
To be clear, Joseph Kony is a vile and evil man. This isn’t up for debate. Not only is he responsible for the abduction of tens of thousands of children in Uganda where the film is set, but his reign of terror also stretches into the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Sudan. Additionally, Kony is sought after by the U.S. government, as well as others, and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. So yes, Kony and his rebel forces deserve to be brought to justice. But many are wondering if Invisible Children should be the ones leading the charge.
Unlike the millions of people who watched the video and quickly felt compelled to share it with others, I couldn’t help but think that there was more to the story. Although the images were extremely gripping—Jacob’s story and the images of young children sleeping head to foot in refugee camps—I couldn’t switch off my reflex to view the film through a critical eye.
While Invisible Children is a masterful piece of filmmaking, for sure, and forces audiences to connect with the young Ugandans and their plight, I am troubled by the ease at which many have viewed the film and have taken it a face value without so much as a second thought. Moreover, I’m troubled by those who could care less about the messenger because they argue the message needs to be told…at any cost (and luckily for Invisible Children, it’s the low, low price of a $30 Kony 2012 action kit or $25 t-shirt).
Although we can argue about the effectiveness of such a campaign for days on end (I probably still wouldn’t be convinced it will lead to lasting, meaningful changes), I’ll leave it up to the experts who have questioned where the money Invisible Children has raised goes and why they (as well as other groups) continue to exaggerate the facts.
Ugandan blogger Angelo Izama reminds us that even though the film is moving, things aren’t always what the seem.
“To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, it’s portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era,” Izama writes. “At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.”
Despite the film’s insistence that the biggest threat facing Uganda’s youth is a murderous rebel, Izama sheds light on what’s really going on today.
“If six years ago children in Uganda would have feared the hell of being part of the LRA, a well documented reality already, today the real invisible children are those suffering from ‘Nodding Disease’. Over 4000 children are victims of this incurable debilitating condition. It’s a neurological disease that has baffled world scientists and attacks mainly children from the most war affected districts of Kitgum, Pader and Gulu.”