A month after the first KONY2012 video stirred up intense controversy, Invisible Children released a sequel, “Beyond Famous.” The tone and content of this video—much more detailed and factual, interviewing local activists and abductees on the ground—have clearly adapted based on the criticism the first video received. (It even opens with clips of praise and criticism from the media.)
There was a quote of Jason Russell’s that I reacted viscerally to: “No one wants a boring documentary on Africa.” His meltdown and hospitalization have undercut his credibility by a lot, and he clearly is absent from the production of this video. It’s interesting to note because this sequel, in a sense, is the “boring documentary” Russell claims wouldn’t have the same viral stickiness. Sure, it’s much more thorough, factually accurate and culturally sensitive, but as a result it’s also less flashy and doesn’t tug quite as hard on the heartstrings.
Was Russell right? If the first KONY2012 documentary had been made in the style of this sequel, would it have taken off the way it did?
I’m not sure; I’m still wrestling with this balance between substance and stickiness and probably always will. But I do have to say that this video is like so many nonprofit advocacy videos I’ve seen before. The documentary is very well-made, of course: beautifully filmed, with poignant footage and backable claims to what KONY 2012 has accomplished thus far. But it follows a familiar formula: facts conveyed through compelling infographics, emotion conveyed through primary interviews and predictably lilting music, hope inspired through activists’ personal testimonies. (I especially love the interviews with schoolchildren—you can see their passion just bursting off the screen.)
Whatever might be said about the KONY 2012 film controversy, it’s undeniable that taking a risky departure from the expected way of doing things had a huge impact, even eliciting a direct response from the LRA. It was strange that Invisible Children took so long to respond to the backlash; then it was deeply unfortunate that Jason Russell’s public meltdown threw a wrench in the organization’s plans and in his personal credibility.
So the impact of KONY2012 had a lot of both positive and negative potential. With this sequel and other follow-up steps in their campaign, I hope Invisible Children will use the opportunity to accomplish something meaningful—and that we viewers will do the same, rather than sink deeper into the complacency of armchair criticism.