Kony 2012: 'Machine Gun Preacher' connection and Oscar chances
Kony 2012 has become an international phenomenon in a mere five days, with more than 50 million people watching the half-hour video created by the San Diego nonprofit Invisible Children. The documentary is a piece of social activism aimed at stopping the head of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, who over the last 2 1/2 decades has terrorized northern Uganda and its surrounding region with kidnappings, killings and torture, often aimed at children.
While the problem isn't a new one, the level of awareness achieved in the last week is astounding.
Last year, Relativity Media attempted to do its part to bring attention to Kony with its Gerard Butler-starring film "Machine Gun Preacher.” But not even a big star and the backing of a prominent studio could move the needle of awareness in a way that "Kony2012" has achieved.
“Preacher” centered on Sam Childers, a former biker gang member who dedicated his life to saving the children of southern Sudan from Kony’s army. He has built an orphanage and a few schools in the area through his Angels of East Africa foundation, which is supportive of the Kony2012 movement. (Kony is notorious for disfiguring young children, forcing boys to be soldiers and girls to be sex slaves.)
“Preacher,” written by Jason Keller and directed by Marc Forster, is a biopic of Childers, with southern Sudan and Kony as its backdrop. But grossing only $500,000, the film didn't connect with audiences, partly because the violence against children made it a tough sell for moviegoers.
That doesn't seem to be the case with "Kony2012," a video that has already earned Invisible Children hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and re-energized the effort to bring Kony to justice.
President Obama last year authorized the deployment of 100 military advisors to “remove Joseph Kony from the battlefield," but there is concern that if the issue wanes from public consciousness, the advisors will be removed by year's end.
“I’ve been a part of this issue and have been fighting for a number of years to bring awareness to it,” said Keller, who traveled to Sudan with Childers as part of his research on the film. “The success of 'Kony2012' has a lot to do with how beautiful, touching and heartbreaking the video is. It really drives the issue home in an incredibly emotional, personal way. It’s also brilliantly offered people a simple way to get involved.”
"Kony2012" has been criticized for oversimplifying a complex problem, and the organization behind it has drawn fire for not donating enough of its profit to Central Africa directly, even though it clearly specifies that it is not an aid group but an advocacy organization.
Keller believes the criticism is overblown.
“Central African politics is an extremely complex problem, but it gets really simple when you go over there, as I have, and you see victims of Kony with no lips and no noses. There’s nothing wrong with simplifying the message to 'there’s a butcher on the loose and he should be brought to justice.' This isn’t about politics. It’s about saving these kids, saving these innocent people.”
The film has also generated talk of an Oscar — as perhaps as a nominee in the documentary short category. (It probably would be one of the only films in that category to be viewed by such a huge audience.)
But according to the rules on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website, any film that receives its first public exhibition anywhere besides a theater is ineligible for entry.
— Nicole Sperling
Photo: Gerard Butler in "Machine Gun Preacher." Credit: Iltze Kitshoff / Relativity Media.