By Teen Voices Interns Kate Szumita, Raven Heroux, and Mary Gilcoine
Even if you don’t have a Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr account, you’ve probably heard something about the Kony 2012 campaign. Kony 2012, the campaign’s 30-minute film, has gone viral and created an unprecedented uproar in social media. The campaign was launched earlier this month by Invisible Children, a non-profit raising awareness of African armed conflict and the use of kidnapped children as rebel soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Simply stated, the mission of the Kony 2012 campaign is to make Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony famous enough that he will be captured and brought to trial.
Kony’s crimes are undeniably heinous. According to the campaign film Kony 2012, Kony has abducted more than 30,000 children over the course of 20 years, forcing young girls into sex slavery and young boys into warring as child soldiers. As advocates for teen girl empowerment, we’re deeply disturbed by the statistics about girls.
But we’re also disturbed by the lack of attention to girls and girls’ issues in the film. While it’s understandable that Jason Russell (co-founder of Invisible Children and creator of Kony 2012) seeks to hold the attention of the masses—a temperamental target audience that may shy away from stories that are too graphic or disturbing—we have to wonder: Where are the girls? Why is the film so silent about the stories of these girls? Russell mentions only in passing the atrocious sex crimes committed against young African women. It is astonishing and disappointing how much this film glosses over the extent of crimes committed.
So why has Invisible Children shaped the Kony 2012 to hold such a narrow perspective? The girls—and all the affected children—deserve a safe place to tell their stories, and to be heard.
It’s critical that a film and organization seeking to make “invisible children” visible should not render girls invisible and voiceless. In the past, the organization has showcased the struggles of African girls from war-torn areas. Among these girls is Grace, who was kidnapped and forced to become a sex slave. Soon after, Grace found out she was pregnant. Grace is celebrated for her strength as a survivor and her resilience in starting a new life.
Roseline has another amazing story of strength, when she was left to survive on her own after her parents were killed by the war.
While we wish that Russell had given voice to girls like Grace and Roseline, we also must give credit where credit is due. In many ways, the film is moving and inspirational and it’s clearly tapped a vein among many people. The Kony 2012 campaign has, if nothing else, proven the power and influence of social media on mass society. Despite heavy criticism from bloggers and other media, in a matter of weeks, Kony 2012 has undoubtedly grown from a film to a movement. Many well-intentioned social media consumers, including teens, are indeed making Joseph Kony famous.
But, to quote Spiderman’s uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So the questions become: How can we use this film and the tool of social media wisely? How can we harness the momentum that’s building around the exploitation of all children to make the world safer? What changes would you like to see made in the world? And what actions are you willing to do to foster that change, even if there’s a personal cost?