3 Problems With the Viral Film "Kony 2012"

By now you've probably come across at least a few Facebook updates, tweets, and/or Tumbls promoting Invisible Children's documentary Kony 2012, about Ugandan murderous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) warlord Joseph Kony. Maybe you've watched the 30-minute film yourself, but even if you haven't, it's plain to see that the #kony2012/#stopkony campaign is a viral sensation. Kony 2012 seemingly came out of nowhere and in just a few days became one of the most talked-about videos on the internet, garnering millions of views on YouTube and Vimeo. It's easy to see why -- the film is slickly produced and incredibly compelling. But as the film and accompanying campaign have blown up, a number of people have brought up reasons why we should all be somewhat wary of the effort. Below are several of those criticisms.

1. The film doesn't tell the whole story of the LRA or Kony.

In a guest post for Foreign Policy, Michael Wilkerson, a freelance journalist who has reported from Uganda, notes that Kony 2012 gets it right that Kony is a horrible man, but also plays fast and loose with some of the facts.

It would be great to get rid of Kony.  He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years.  But let's get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

It's great that Invisible Children is getting people fired up about a warlord who is doing terrible things to Ugandan citizens, but it would benefit everyone if the campaign told the wholestory.

2. It's condescending and imperialistic.

Many people have pointed out that the film, while a great consciousness-raiser, also plays into problematic imperialistic attitudes about Africa. As Peter Bradshaw wrote at the Guardian, the film "could be seen as insufferably condescending, a way of making US college kids feel good about themselves." Blogger Arri Conerly Coleman elaborates:

If “awareness” is the payoff for paternalistic, imperialist, “white man’s burden” NGO campaigns, I don’t want it. (Just the name “Invisible Children” denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans- many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers…). I stand by this: if you’re more comfortable talking about Africans than you are talking to an African person, you really should not be in the business of representing Africa. Furthermore, if you cannot find an African nation on a map, let alone acknowledge Africans’ agency, you should not be providing “solutions” or “aid. 

 3. Invisible Children's finances are sorta sketchy.

Alex Miller at VICE notes that Invisible Children's three leaders took home nearly $90,000 each in compensation last year (whether or not that's "too much" is a matter of debate). Also:

According to some of the internet, Invisible Children refuses to co-operate with the Better Business Bureau—an organization that investigates the ethical nature of companies. 

Also, according to the Charity Navigator (a website I was unaware of until today), Invisible Children is not particularly transparent.

This morning Invisible Children posted a response to many of these criticisms, which you can read in its entirety here. Perhaps it will put your mind at ease about the group's financials and/or other issues with the film. But it's still worth coming at the campaign with a critical eye, even if it does make millions of Americans aware of Kony's wrongdoing.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at March 8, 2012, 5:03am

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