In both M.I.A.'s new album Matangi and her recent interview with NPR, she name-drops a campaign made by the organization I work for -- KONY 2012. (Spoiler alert: Joseph Kony is still alive and we don't steal our donors's money. Cheers.) As both an employee of the creative team at Invisible Children and an avid fan of M.I.A., I thought we should respond to her comments because 1) Helllllllo, everyone at Invisible Children has been obsessed with her for years and have been taking with people in her camp (namely Afrikan Boy) since 2007 2) She raises very valid points and a discussion that needs to be had. As it is apparently a trend of 2013 (cc: Miley, Sinead, Amanda Palmer, Sufjan Stevens, everyone), I decided to pen this open (love) letter to respond:
Before we get started here, know that we all had a huge geek-out when we heard you namedrop KONY 2012 on your album on "Boom Skit." Then we had an even bigger moment when we listened to your interview with NPR in which you talk about Jacob Acaye, a Ugandan boy (now man), featured in many of our films. You talked about how you could be in the same category as Jacob -- someone who's come through terrible circumstances and has a story to tell. You said the difference between you and Jacob is that you worked your way out of your situation and tried to tell your own story -- to speak for yourself. You say we went over to Africa, found this story, and uploaded it to YouTube and people listened. You say people didn't listen to you or take you seriously. You think it's messed up that people can't tell their own story -- that people have to have someone come in and package, market, and produce their story for the world to take it seriously.
We think it's messed up, too.
In an ideal world, people would listen to the stories that deserve to be heard -- the stories of injustice and human rights abuses. Whether it's happening in Uganda or Sri Lanka, stories of mass criminal practices should be listened to. We agree. They should be.
Unfortunately, through making 10 other films, we saw the world wasn't listening. Jason, the lead filmmaker at Invisible Children, spent collectively three years in Africa becoming immersed in the LRA conflict and growing to be a brother to Jacob. We toured our films telling the stories Jason discovered of victims of Joseph Kony's violence long before we even thought to do KONY 2012. They garnered a grassroots community who believed in stopping Kony, and they continuously inspired us to keep going. We saw the story start to take off within that community in a way we never imagined or dreamed of. On a global scale beyond that, though, people weren't listening and pressure on actually stopping Kony wasn't happening to the point of an end ever being possible. We made KONY 2012 because we were honestly so tired of having to tell a story of mass violence over and over to deaf ears. We resolved to make the world care. We threw everything in, and began working on the film.
One of the criticisms we received was that KONY 2012 was simplified. Yes, it was definitely simplified. It was intentionally brought down to common denominators to appeal to a mass audience. Secret pro tip for making a viral video: Every 30 seconds, we purposefully crafted the film to keep you engaged. We know the millennial attention span because we are millennials with attention issues. We created the film, made serious edits, and hit publish on our YouTube account. What happened next was quite insane and will maybe never be understood. All we know is that the intention of the film worked -- Joseph Kony's crimes became internationally known. To United States policy makers, to high school students, and you, a global popstar.
We made the movie. Jacob didn't make the movie. Neither did the thousands of people who were affected by the violence of Joseph Kony's army. We were the voice for the cause -- a voice for the victims. Should victims need voices? No. Do they need voices to have their stories heard? In the current way media works, sadly, most of the times they do.
You have spoken for years about the genocide of the Tamil people and your life as a refugee. I've watched your interviews with Bill Maher and Tavis Smiley and Jian Ghomeshi throughout the years and seen your passion for the issue and the equal frustration for the media denial of serious coverage. Your lyrics talk about the conflict and the impact your refugee status had on your life, your art, and your music.
What you've said and how you've said it -- it matters and continues to matter. We worked for years trying to get the story of Joseph Kony heard. We've been where you are, and we have felt the frustration you feel about not being taken seriously. Thankfully, people listened to the story of Joseph Kony. We can only hope that people start listening seriously to your story and that we don't have to see articles like that in the Toronto Star from this week about "Sri Lanka's hidden genocide."
Will the world awaken to crimes against humanity without having to be spoonfed the context for them to digest? We hope. You hope.
Before we sign off on this letter, it must be re-stated: We adore you. You disrupt -- creatively, intelligently, and continuously. Your music soundtracks our creative process, and I legitimately look at your book on my desk once a day.
Alex at Invisible Children