Darfur Now (review)

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Do Something

Hundreds of thousands of people are dead, millions are displaced and suffering, and it’s all happening in a place most Americans couldn’t find on a map: Sudan, in northeastern Africa. The tragedy still unfolding in the Sudanese region of Darfur has been officially designated a genocide, but global action to stop it has been limited. This powerful film, from documentarian Theodore Braun, aims to raise awareness of the situation and motivate all of us to do something about it. And as frustratingly overwhelming as the whole thing may seem, what Braun shows us here is that, yes, ordinary people can do extraordinary things. The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” That’s what Darfur Now is all about.
There’s Adam Sterling, for one, a California university student and descendent of Holocaust survivors who set out to get his home state to divest itself of its economic involvement in Sudan — he’s a tireless and all but anonymous champion of a place he’s never even visited, but one with a horrible story he cannot ignore, not with his family history. (My one negative criticism of the film — and it is literally the only one — is that it’s not clear until the very end that Sterling’s activism on behalf of Darfur is aimed at economic divestment; it’s not clear, in fact, early on in the film, what he hopes to gain with his awareness-raising activities in California, or what connection the state has to Sudan.) There’s Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, who is working toward getting the leaders of Sudan into pokey in the Netherlands to answer for their crimes against humanity. There’s Pablo Recalde, an Ecadorian who left his family — a sacrifice we see is difficult for him — to supply humanitarian relief to the internally displaced refugees of Darfur, most of whom rely on international aid for mere survival in the camps they’re reduced to living in. There are actors Don Cheadle and George Clooney, who use their celebrity clout to raise awareness of the horrors however they can; they are, the film notes, the “highest level delegation” to go to Egypt, on Sudan’s northern border and one of its most important trading partners, to discuss Darfur, a fact that Cheadle acknowledges “shouldn’t be — that’s embarrassing.” And it is, Cheadle and Clooney’s dedication notwithstanding. How have we gotten to this point, where movie stars are our most principled voices for justice? It’s disgusting.

But Braun wants his film to embarrass us, here in relatively comfortable America — how can even our tettering, precarious economy compare to mass rapes, ethnic slaughter, the destruction of entire ways of life? Braun introduces us, too, to more than one survivor of the nightmare; this is emphatically not a film about how privileged Westerners are “affected” by a catastrophe to the exclusion of those actually living it. He shows us, in the movie’s most poignant moments, the hopes of the people of Darfur, that “the international troops” and “the white people” will step in and do what’s right to stop a conflict that is fueled by religious differences — it’s mostly Arab militias preying on mostly Muslim villagers — and exacerabated by factors of global warming: drought has made things much, much worse than they might otherwise be.

This is one of those movies that’s more important for the action it may inspire than anything else. What can we do? Go to Participate.net for suggestions. It may seem like whatever little things we little people can do may be tilting at windmills, but as Cheadle says, “It’s better than doing nothing.”

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