'Kony 2012: Beyond Famous' Switches Focus to Community Building, Not Hunting Down Joseph Kony

'When Invisible Children (IC) released Kony 2012 on March 5, their goal was to get 500,000 views before 2013. The video went viral, gaining a pack of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed supporters along with a vehement tirade of criticism. One month and over 140 million views later, IC has released Kony 2012: Beyond Famous. Although the sequel is unlikely to receive as many views as the original, it has already been praised as a “more solid, moving and accurate presentation.” It has also been derided as being “about how good the original was” and “mass entertainment for the boneheaded Twitter youth.”

The sequel is undoubtedly more informative and nuanced, with clips of Ugandans speaking about the “complexity” of the issue instead of the simplistic conversation between director Jason Russell and his son, Gavin, in the original video. But it still has the slick production value, fist-pumping soundtrack and dramatic visuals that raised much scorn regarding the original’s factual accuracy and potential to have an impact on the ground.

Most significantly, the purpose of the sequel is to sustain engagement for the campaign and enlist greater support for its culmination on April 20, “Cover the Night.” In the midst of the unprecedented publicity Kony 2012 received, including Russell’s public breakdown, IC wants to ensure that the movement does not lose momentum. As April 20 is fast approaching, supporters are reminded that their goal is to smother cities across the U.S. with the red and black logo and the words “Stop Kony 2012.”

The director of the sequel, Ben Keesey, uses several tactics to further this goal. “We are a new generation made for such a time as this because our liberty is bound together, across the world and across the street.” 

He shifts the focus from Uganda, which dominates the first 15 minutes of the sequel, and back to the U.S. He tells viewers that April 20 should be a day for individuals to engage with their local communities: “Clean a public place — and then leave a mark with a Kony 2012 poster.” The combination of the striking colors and logo with people conducting community service across the U.S. will create a powerful image that is likely to heighten awareness about Kony.

Keesey also asserts that activism through awareness can have a tangible impact on policy. Communication with local and state leaders is a recurring refrain of the sequel, with a clip from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahty (D-VT) saying that “pushing and pushing and writing letters” works. In the aftermath of the original video, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union has approved the launch of a 5,000-strong regional force to track down the “elusive Joseph Kony.” The sequel thus demonstrates that awareness campaigns in the U.S. can and do translate into action in Uganda.

The sequel is also filled with inspiring clips, from teenagers saying, “We’re going to be the leaders of tomorrow” to Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, saying, “We are changing the world… it’s a revolution [that] will be in the books of history.” Skeptics are likely to pounce on such enthusiasm and remind us of their concerns regarding Invisible Children’s financials as well as its manipulative and inaccurate portrayal of Uganda. For precisely this reason, Keesey’s decision to shift attention away from Uganda and leave viewers with the message “serve your home community” is both practical and motivational.

Sequels almost always fail to capture the magic of the original. If Kony 2012: Beyond Famous can sustain the debate between supporters and critics that Kony 2012 sparked, it will accomplish the goal of increasing awareness about Joseph Kony and hopefully contribute to his impending capture.