If you were not among the 100 million people who, in just six days, viewed the Internet video "Kony 2012," here's what you missed: The 30-minute clip opens with the birth of now 4-year-old Gavin Russell, son of San Diego filmmaker-activist Jason Russell, and quickly turns the focus on less-fortunate children: Some 66,000 in Uganda and neighboring countries who, for more than two decades, have been abducted and forced to perform atrocities (including killing their parents) in warlord Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. The film, produced by the nonprofit group Invisible Children, ends with an appeal to viewers to order $30 kits and put up posters on April 20 to make Kony famous so that he may be caught. But as fast as Russell's video went viral, it raised questions.
1 Why release this video now?
In 2003 Russell was in Uganda when he met Acaye Jacob, then 12, who had been an LRA soldier and lost his brother to Kony. Russell vowed to bring Kony to justice and founded Invisible Children (IC). In 2004 the group made the first of 11 films and more than 200 short clips. After the U.S. sent troops to Uganda, Russell, 33, felt "the end could come soon." So they set a deadline in their latest video, posted on March 5. Why did "Kony 2012" take off? "It was the simplicity of the story," guesses CEO Ben Keesey, 28.
2 George Clooney
and Angelina Jolie
are in the video. Do they support Invisible Children?
The filmmakers use footage of Clooney asking why celebrities and not war criminals are on magazine covers (he was referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, not Kony, at the time), but Clooney so far has remained quiet about the video. Jolie, who is also not affiliated with Invisible Children, is nonetheless impressed with the campaign's reach. "It's remarkable to see the concern of young people around the world for the victims of genocides and crimes against humanity," the actress tells PEOPLE. "Joseph Kony was the first person indicted by the International Criminal Court. He continues to evade capture, but Ugandans remain hopeful he will face trial."
3 Is Kony still abducting children?
Kony and his army were driven out of Uganda in 2006 and now are believed to be operating, though weakened, in three bordering nations, and his ranks number only 200 by some estimates. He has been pursued by the Ugandan and neighboring forces along with a 100-member U.S. special-ops force. "There have been recent atrocities attributed to him," says UCLA professor Edmond Keller, a specialist in African politics. "The intensity needs to be stepped up."
4 What's real-and what's not?
To illustrate the 30,000 children Kony abducted in Uganda over 25 years, the filmmakers used animation software to turn a photo with a handful of kids into a massive crowd. Another scene re-creates one of Kony's soldiers abducting a young boy. "If there's no way to tell the story through footage, we use animation or reenactment," says Invisible Children CEO Keesey.
5 If Kony's crimes are so heinous, why is the film controversial?
Some viewers are put off by the film's slick production values; others by the conceit of Russell explaining to his preschooler son about Kony, a monster who forced boys to become murderers and girls to become sex slaves. "I think it is well-intentioned," says Jimmie Briggs, author of Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War, of the video. "I understand the impulse to make it accessible to a broad audience. But it is oversimplified. The war is over in northern Uganda."
6 Can a video help capture a warlord on the run?
Possibly. Responding to the phenomenon, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said, "Let's put a price on his head. Joseph Kony's days are numbered.... I hope [the video] makes it far more difficult for governments, not just ours, to say, 'It's not a problem.'" And New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tells PEOPLE, "This is another tool in the toolbox for grassroots democracy, which is having an impact on Washington." But how 100 million views bring about justice is yet to be seen. "It is good to raise awareness and keep on the agenda," says Keller. "But whatever happens in the next 12 months will be attributed to the hard work of people who are on the ground already."
7 The Kony kits, now sold out, cost $30. Where does the money go?
Posters to put up April 20, bracelets and pins in the kit are meant to raise consciousness. Critics charge that IC used only about a third of last year's $13.8 million budget to help Ugandans. Since 2007 the group has built schools and funded programs to get former child soldiers back into classrooms. By contrast $700,000 went into media and films, according to IC's 2011 financial report. "People are asking why we spend so much making movies," says Russell. "Because stories can change the world, and our movie wouldn't have gone viral if we didn't spend so much time and energy making it."