Kony 2012 screening in Uganda met with anger, rocks thrown at screen


By Elizabeth Flock
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 didn’t go over quite the same.

Ugandans watch the screening of "Kony 2012" in Lira district, 234 miles north of Kampala. (AFP/Getty Images) In part, that may be because warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army have weakened in Uganda over the past several years. 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:

Having heard so many great things about the film, the crowd’s expectations were high.
People I spoke to anticipated seeing a video that showed the world the terrible atrocities that they had suffered during the conflict, and the ongoing struggles they still face trying to rebuild their lives after two lost decades.
The audience was at first puzzled to see the narrative lead by an American man – Jason Russell – and his young son.
Towards the end of the film, the mood turned more to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialized 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. The question is: had the narrative led with a Ugandan boy instead of Jason Russell’s son, had the film not urged people to make Kony “famous,” and had the charity not made money for years off of merchandising — would the film have been able to become the viral sensation it did?

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.


ADD ON YOUTUBE ... ALJazeeraEnglish video, includes coverage of the video showing: