Published in The Oklahoma Daily on April 23, 2012.
Our View: Invisible Children’s new Kony film commits the same sins as its predecessor.
Last week, posters for the Stop Kony campaign appeared in interesting locations around campus — most notably covering the anatomy of the statue outside the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. These posters were likely placed by students as part of Invisible Children’s “Cover the Night” event, announced in its second Kony film.
This new film was clearly an attempt by Invisible Children to answer some of the criticisms aimed at the campaign. While this second film does offer some small redemption from these criticisms, it is not nearly enough: This film commits the same sins as its predecessor.
The film is centered around what privileged members of American and European communities are doing to organize and fight these issues. It portrays the filmmakers and the organization, once again, as white knights. It paints the simple act of being aware of others’ suffering as a heroic act, worthy of praise, reward and adulation.
Never mind the fact that these problems have been going on for years with little notice from the international community. Never mind that Western societies contributed to — even caused — them in the first place. Never mind that these young activists know very little about these cultures, nations and people. Never mind that they couldn’t point to Uganda on a map.
And in inflating this sense of feel-good activism on the part of non-Africans, it ignores the voices of the Ugandans, Congolese and other people who are actually affected by the war and the actions of the Lord’s Resistance Army. It ignores their unique understanding of the true situation and what must be done to solve the problems there.
The new film does feature a few token individuals. But their roles are small and clearly situated simply to justify the efforts of Invisible Children against widespread criticism.
On top of that, it argues yet more strongly for militarized intervention and support of the local regimes. These local governments have human rights records to rival Kony’s. Did we not learn our lesson about supporting harmful dictators against a common enemy after Iraq?
In our last editorial, we illustrated the racism inherent in the white savior complex: The idea that privileged white Americans can drop into a foreign country and “save” the poor, savage, colored populations from problems the privileged white citizens know nothing about.
But at the time, those of you concerned about the Kony situation didn’t have much of an option. It was either support Invisible Children’s convenient campaign or do the hard work of educating yourself about another culture and a complex socio-political situation in Africa. And who has time for that?
Well, now, you have another choice. If you are really concerned about the Kony situation, go to OUDaily.com to watch the informational video made by the group Uganda Speaks. The group has started a campaign called Uganda 2012, appropriately placing the spotlight back on the nation and people affected instead of the mass-murderer himself.
Both of Invisible Children’s films have focused on a white man’s story and given very little space for actual Ugandans to tell their story. This disenfranchises and infantilizes the very people the campaign is supposedly trying to help.
Uganda Speaks’ video gives a voice to those affected by Kony and the war, putting the truth and the efforts to improve their conditions back in their own hands.
But we must warn you, supporting them will not be as glamorous. This group’s film offers no easy answers. And it doesn’t come with a marketing campaign.
The group’s website explains, “If you help fund this project, we will not send you a T-shirt. We will not send you a bracelet. We will not ask you to vandalize your city with the face of a mass murder.”
This is the test. We want to see the same passion in the support for this group. We want to see this video reach a million views. We want to see tweets and Facebook posts pointing people to this local effort.
We want to see people get the same emotional tingle, the same calling, without the flashy film techniques. And we want to see you do your part, donate and spread the word, without the rewards or the T-shirts or the savior complex.
If you truly care about the people, the children, of these African countries once plagued by war and still suffering from its aftermath, you must see them as equals and offer them enough respect to put their words over the self-righteous white-knighting of some privileged documentary filmmakers. You must work to make them visible.