International development according to Hollywood | 

International development is just about at the bottom of the list of things that the average American thinks about each day.

Foreign bureaus are closing for major US news sources. One of the big television networks turned down more money for global health reporting after a series, entirely funded by grants, led to a dip in viewers. In other words ratings were so bad that the network turned down millions of dollars. It is that tough.

Aside from advocacy efforts like Kony 2012 and Oxfam advertisements, how are people learning about the world around them if they are not reading the news? The answer could be Hollywood.

Reporting on Africa does not get much attention in the US, but a film staring Leonardo DiCaprio about Sierra Leone does.

A film like Blood Diamond, setting aside its problems, brings a big audience to the story of  Sierra Leone’s civil war. Most people have likely heard of blood diamonds before, but the film provides an easy to understand explanation for why the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was put in place a decade ago. The film brought in $171 million despite mixed reviews.

City of God
City of God

Recognizing the influence that Hollywood has on bringing the issue of development to the American household, a group of researchers decided to analyze what these films actually tell viewers about development. It is easy for critics to dismiss popular representation of development. There are reasons to be concerned with the oversimplification of issues related to poverty and conflict. The authors say they are aware of this, but challenge that popular depictions need to be taken seriously given the audience that they reach. Continue reading

Brett Keller debunks the story behind: Machine Gun Preacher | 

Brett Keller asks Who is Sam Childers?

At first, I said to myself: Who cares?

But I do like Keller’s stuff, so I read on:

He goes by many names, Reverend Sam and the “Machine Gun Preacher” amongst them. If you haven’t heard much from Sam Childers, you will soon. To date he’s been featured in a few mainstream publications, but most of his exposure has come from forays into Christian media outlets and cross-country speaking tours of churches. In 2009 he published his memoir, Another Man’s War. But Childers is about to become much better known: his life story is being made into a movie titled Machine Gun Preacher. It hits the big screen this September, starring Gerard Butler (300) and directed by Oscar-winner Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace).

In answer to my question, why should you care, Keller says:

If you’re concerned about Africa (especially the newly independent South Sudan), neutrality and humanitarianism, or how small charities sometimes make it big on dubious stories, Childers is a scary character. By his own admission Sam Childers is a Christian and a savior to hundreds of children, as well as a small-time arms-dealer and a killer. And, as far as I can tell, he’s a self-aggrandizing liar who chronically exaggerates his own stories and has been denounced by many, including the rebel group of which he claimed to be a commander.

The impending Hollywood celebration and promotion of Childers has Keller concerned, so he is going after his claims — and the dangerous implications of making him a heroic figure.

Brett Keller

Keller has broken his examination of the Machine Gun Preacher into two parts, the link above being the first in a five-part series. Or you can read Keller’s whole treatise here.

It’s fascinating, and disturbing.