In light of criticism over the methods and facts of the “Stop Kony” campaign, discussions have also been raised regarding the messengers of the film and the fame of the film’s director, Jason Russell. But part of the plan is working—Kony is now famous.
Some people have a problem with the fact that Jason Russell, the film’s director, has also become famous along the way. He should be famous—he got thousands of kids to pay attention for 27 minutes to something that matters.
Kony’s Rise to Fame Through Jason Russell and Invisible Children
Back in 2008 when I first watched “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” I was moved by what I saw. The film was presented in the school that I worked at by a Grade 11 student as a way to kick start his school-based service effort for Invisible Children. He was collecting school supplies and stationary items to send to schools in central Africa supported by the Invisible Children organization.
In the opening scenes of that earlier film, as the young filmmakers introduced themselves and described what they were setting out to do, I had a very mixed collection of thoughts and feelings. The way they spoke on camera was so casual and unrehearsed that it seemed glib in light of what I knew the film was actually about. It reminded me of so many amateur videos I’d seen where just because something was captured on film it was somehow automatically worthy of viewing.
I was cynical of these good looking, seemingly wealthy young American fellows. After all, who has the time and the means to buy filmmaking equipment and head off to Africa to make a movie with their buddies? I not only doubted their skill and experience but also their motivations and sincerity.
A Positive Perspective on the Filmmakers
By the end of the film, what I had previously thought about these three young men did not matter one bit—it wasn’t about them. I was quietly embarrassed by my knee-jerk judgements. These three guys had just shown me something I would otherwise never have seen. Not only did they reveal something of grave importance, but they were using their skills and talents productively. They were using their time and their money to do something positive—exactly what I would want my students and my sons to do.
I believe that in all art there is some degree of vanity. This film is authored by Jason Russell and his team, who on their website describe themselves as “storytellers.” Russell was there, he shot some of the footage, I imagine he worked closely with a film editor, he delivers the narration, and he even uses his son as a kind of “stand in” for all children—for their sense of wonder, innocence and curiosity. His child is visible. In this way, Russell makes himself very vulnerable.
Kony Campaign’s Controversial Messenger
We’ve all seen many examples of popular culture figures using their celebrity to get attention for an environmental issue or a social cause, it’s commonplace in today’s media. We’re not used to seeing someone like Jason Russell get celebrity-like attention for bringing awareness to a cause by being a messenger. Perhaps it makes some of us uncomfortable somehow, maybe raises a few questions, but it is certainly no reason to disregard the message being brought.
Back to the plan.
The other part of the plan is arresting Kony. If his capture is achieved, will communities in central Africa be restored to peace and prosperity as the Invisible Children organization hopes? Will the world be a better place? Those are huge questions, questions that often tend to be avoided by sometimes jaded adults due to past experiences and disappointments.
But 100 million views in less than a week—that is now a historical fact.
Our kids have seen and experienced for themselves how digital media can be used to create content, and how social media can be used to distribute and broadcast that content. This is about communication, sharing, and most importantly perhaps, gaining a feeling of a communal sense of right and wrong—something not commonly seen in today’s media.
As Jason Russell quotes Victor Hugo at the outset of his film, “These are indeed ideas whose time has come.”
The newest version of the Kony 2012 video, released last week, can be found here.
Do you believe Jason Russell and other messengers of the Kony campaign deserve the hype? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.