This post has been updated.
Invisible Children's “Kony 2012” video is the most viral video in history. Over the past week, Americans have e-mailed, tweeted, Facebooked, pinned and blogged about the campaign ad nauseam, many in support of it. But in Uganda, a public screening of the film was met with anger. Some watchers of the film even threw rocks at the screen.
In part, that reaction may be because warlord Joseph Kony — the focus of the film — is likely no longer in Uganda. The country also has other problems to worry about, like the “nodding disease” that is affecting thousands of children, or the anti-gay bill that previously suggested the death penalty for homosexual acts.
But al-Jazeera reports that the screening may have also failed because of Invisible Children’s approach, with a perception that the nonprofit manipulated the facts to promote its cause. Hosted by the the NGO African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), the screening was heavily publicized on local radio stations and attended by more than 5,000 Ugandans. Al-Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, who attended the screening, reports:
The mood turned... to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous...
The event ended with the angrier members of the audience throwing rocks and shouting abusive criticism, as the rest fled for safety, leaving an abandoned projector, with organizers and the press running for cover until the dust settled.
Kony 2012 was clearly made for a Western audience, not a Ugandan one. Filmmaker Jason Russell acknowledges that he simplified the issues, but says he did so on purpose, to get his message across more clearly.
Perhaps Ugandans would have embraced the film had Russell led the narrative with a Ugandan boy instead of his own son. The audience may have liked the film better if Russell had not urged people to make Kony “famous,” or mentioned the charity’s merchandising. But would the film have been able to become the viral sensation it did without its simple message and the money the charity made?
And does that mean the film should or should not have been made differently? Have your say in the comments below.
Update, 12:34 p.m.: Invisible Children spokesman Jesse Derris says that coverage of the Kony 2012 screening was “poorly reported” and lacking context.
“Clearly the film was targeted to educate a younger Western audience. It was meant to be a primer, telling kids this is why you should care, this is what you can do. There’s no indication that this was explained to anyone at the screening,” he said.
Derris also noted that Invisible Children did not know about the screening and was not in attendance. Lira district, where the screening took place, isn’t a region that Invisible Children has programs in, said Derris. “So the people that saw the film haven’t been able to use Invisible Children programs,” he said.