Progressives are often accused of being star-struck by Hollywood. The right blames progressives for out-right pandering, suspension of disbelief, and lack of critical thinking when a celebrity makes a statement. Now that Oscar season is upon us, the debate has escalated. I suspect readers are thinking that this post will be about American Sniper. It is not. There is a film, Virunga, competing for Best Documentary. Virunga has the potential, if it has not already, to greatly harm people of eastern Congo by conflating the political narrative to "humans vs. environment."
As a friend who has worked extensively in the region told me, "To cast oil and only one militia group as the only bad groups du jour demonstrates that DiCaprio and the whole team do not know what they are talking about, and to me the film Virunga is nothing more than an example of yellow journalism."
On Friday, anyone with access to Netflix was able to see a "special," in reality a promo, hosted by Soledad O'Brien and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio also happens to be the executive producer for the Netflix streaming of Virunga. Virunga: Gorillas In Peril, is a behind the scenes look at the Oscar- nominated Netflix documentary.
As Deadline Hollywood reported, "In a unique and savvy move, Gorillas In Peril also will air at 7:30 pm Friday on TV outlets KCBS and KTLA in Los Angeles. It seems no coincidence that the only TV market in the country that's getting the special is the one that the majority of Academy members call home."
In Hollywood you can pay to promote the big lie.
On Friday, if they chose to watch the special on KCBS and KTLA, Academy voters heard Soledad O'Brien perpetuate this deception as she opened with the hyperbole "deep in the heart of Congo." Virunga Park is not deep within the heart of Congo. It borders Uganda and Rwanda. It is easy to get there. O'Brien corrects this later, but only after the promo uses over seven minutes of anthropomorphic footage of gorillas to pull viewers in emotionally. Then SOCO oil becomes the focus, or is it? O'Brien says that in 2012 a "dangerous" and "heavily armed" rebel group, the M23, threatened the gorillas. Did it?
There is much evidence to the contrary.
When the newly formed M23 rebel group declares war, a new conflict threatens the lives and stability of everyone and everything they've worked so hard to protect, with the filmmakers and the film's participants caught in the crossfire.
Is Virunga about oil, gorillas, a rebellion, a war, or the agenda of a brutal regime that has exploited the people of eastern Congo? War footage is compelling and it makes the film makers look brave. It is comparable to the Brian Williams fabrications, but the fabrications, omissions and obfuscations in Virunga can harm millions of people suffering under a brutal political system.
An article in the Guardian from the 2012 timeline punches a hole in the narrative and places the M23 rebels in the Park, protecting the gorillas.
"A Congolese rebel group accused of killings, mass rapes and other atrocities is taking groups of tourists on gorilla treks to the Virunga national park and using the proceeds to fund its insurgency."
The sentence is almost comical in the bizarre juxtaposition it presents. A group accused of killings and mass rapes (M23) is taking tourists to the gorillas? The tourists seem to have exhibited more "bravery" than filmmakers who express nothing but fear of "rebels" in subsequent interviews.
The Guardian piece is essential for establishing that M23 was in the Park. In fact, the M23 had an agreement with the Park to protect the gorillas and other wildlife during the insurgency. Would the M23 be shelling its own troops?
Virunga footage shows tanks and helicopter gunships firing around the Park, leaving the impression that these weapons belong to the M23. In fact, this is footage of UN (MONUSCO) gunships and Congolese Army (FARDC) tanks.