The Internet is abuzz — 8.8 million views and counting — with praise and criticism for a thirty minute film about a war criminal. On the run since being indicted for war crimes by the Hague in 2005, Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, a guerilla group that has been accused of murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and rape.
"Invisible Children" is a film by three filmmakers who set out to make a film about the Sudan and ended up finding the LRA. It has directed enormous attention — including that of Congress — to the acts of its leader, Joseph Kony. The film team has gone back to the subject, with a web video that encourages viewers to implore the U.S. in assisting with the capture and trial of Kony. They have even set a deadline for his capture, written into the film's title, "KONY 2012."
Here are a list of five things the Internet is saying, with Indiewire's take:
1. This is a short film with a million dollar budget.
According to the organization's own accounting (pdf), the filmmakers behind this film have devoted at least $3 million on creating their films. It seems this $3 million includes the costs behind a longer project, "Invisible Children." The filmmakers took the film's rough cut on a grand tour of US colleges through the mid-to-late aughts to raise awareness of the situation in Uganda.
Talk to any of the filmmakers that have made similar films about community politics in various regions of Africa (I'm looking at you, directors of "War Don Don," "Fambul Tok," and "The Redemption of General Butt Naked"). Sure their films haven't gotten as many views as this 30 minute video, but their budgets were nowhere close.
Sometimes flashy graphics buys you viewers.
2. There's controversy over what the non-profit is spending its funds on.
Haters are always going to find as many reasons as they can to hate. The Daily What accuses Invisible Children, the non-profit organization behind this video, of only spending "31% of all the funds they receive go toward helping anyone." What The Daily What is forgetting is that this non-profit was explicitly set up to make the film, which most documentary films (not really the cash cows that their narrative counterparts) do in order to help gain tax-deductible donations.
3. Are these filmmakers or social activists?
The film spends most of its time telling us about the awesome kits its made so that you can put signs in your lawn, wear bracelets, and become involved with a wider social media campaign around the "KONY 2012" brand. It's more an informercial for becoming an "activist," i.e., one who wears a bracelet to force the U.S. government to intervene in the international effort to track down Kony.
Little of the film is spent explaining anything (though one could argue, that viewers should go to "Invisible Children" (available on DVD) for that.
4. It has everything middle-class Westerners need to be convinced to support a cause: a cute little white kid and mentions of Mark Zuckerberg and Rihanna.
The film entices us: Oprah just may be persuaded to be on our side…could you imagine if Rihanna retweeted this video? It also pulls at our heart strings: Look at how sad it is for the white American filmmaker's little kid to be exposed to the idea of these kind of atrocities, and look at how level-headed he can be in his response to what his father is telling him has gone on in Africa. In fact, the filmmakers treat the viewer as a little kid, resisting any temptation to get too deeply into the larger context of Kony's actions.
This is a fallacious argument, but I'd love to travel to an alternative universe to see how a version of the film without the celebrity and the aww-factor of the little kid would fare.
5. It's a thirty minute video about recent African history that people seem to be watching to the end.
And Western viewers are feeling proud; they've got stamina. Talk to the filmmakers mentioned above and ask them how difficult it can be to convince audiences to watch a film about Africa. Not only did they learn where Uganda is, they feel they sacrificed 30 minutes of their day for a history lesson.