The filmmaker behind the "Kony 2012" documentary, the mega-viral hit that exploded on the Web this week, told NBC's Today show Friday that he makes no apologies for trying to put a human face on a complex and decades-old conflict.
"We can all agree we can stop him this year,'' Invisible Children filmmaker Jason Russell told the Today Show's Ann Curry, referring to guerrilla leader Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). "We're not going to wait.''
Russell defended the film from criticism that it hypes and oversimplifies the guerrilla conflict, which has subsided considerably from its height in 2003-2004. Accused of atrocities and the abduction of thousands of children to fight in his guerrilla group over the past 20 years, Kony's LRA is estimated to have fewer than 200 soldiers now, and most reside outside Uganda.
"If that happened in San Diego, Calif., if that happened in New York City—200 children abducted and forced to kill their parents ... it would be all over the news,'' the filmmaker said.
Russell also encouraged the millions of viewers who have watched the video to donate $30 to his advocacy group, Invisible Children, and wear a wrist bracelet. Some observers have charged that Invisible Children and its "Stop Kony" campaign are essentially promoting "slacktivism"—low-effort, feel-good activism among millions of college students and young people mesmerized by the video that does very little to help anyone on the ground in Central Africa.
"The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege," Nigerian-born writer Teju Cole, author of "Open City," said about the Invisible Children project on Twitter Thursday. "Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that."
American young people turned on to the "Stop Kony" campaign are eager to have a moral cause, Russell said: "These are children and young people 25 and younger are saying, 'Mom, Dad, we want you to pay attention to this right now.'''
The San Diego-based filmmaker attributed the explosive interest in the film to its putting a human face on a complex, decades-old war story. The 30-minute documentary had been seen by more than 52 million viewers on YouTube and 14 million on Vimeo since it was posted Monday, according to MSNBC.
"I think it's because it's a human story,'' Russell said. "We're all human beings, and for some reason we forgot about our humanity because of politics and because all these things we're talking about have paralyzed us.''
Veteran Beltway African experts were still marveling at the group's ability to generate so much interest in a distant Central African conflict that dates back to the 1980s and has been almost entirely under the American public radar. Some said they welcomed the explosive interest and debate the group's film has stirred.
"Instead of continuing to debate the strengths and weakness of the Kony 2012 video ..." Sarah Margon, an Africa expert at the Center for American Progress wrote at the Think Progress blog Friday, "let's figure out how to turn this momentum into a constructive opportunity that can result in smart policies that will have a positive, real-time impact in the affected areas of central Africa."
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