I have never looked at a film with as much trepidation as Machine Gun Preacher. The film is based on the true story of Sam Childers, an ex-con and drug addict who went to Africa and experienced a complete transformation. He exchanged his old days of drug addiction and violence to become the impassioned founder of the Angels of East Africa, a rescue organization for children orphaned in Sudan.
I had already known about the unspeakable horrors that families have experienced in Sudan. I had vaguely known about Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord's resistance army (LRA), and how he kidnapped children and then enslaved them. I knew that it would be incredibly painful to see the depiction of children suffering this way and being stripped of their innocence. However, I felt it was my duty as a citizen of the world to see this movie. You bet I was a crying basketcase during this film, but I became a transformed activist as well after the credits rolled.
Sam Childers is a real flawed hero, a larger than life personality that Hollywood scriptwriters can only dream of creating. As an ex-biker-gang member, he found God and made the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help repair homes destroyed by civil war. He became outraged by the horrific violence faced by the region's vulnerable populace, especially the children. Ignoring the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage where it's most needed -- in the middle of territory controlled by the brutal LRA, the renegade militia that forces children younger than ten to become soldiers, or sold into sex slavery (which fortunately was not depicted in this film). But Sam not only builds a shelter, he leads armed missions deep into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, restoring peace to their lives. He wields an AK-47 in one hand, and a bible in the other, channeling all of his anger into finding Joseph Kony. That a biker with lambchop sideburns and tattoos could single handedly save over a thousand orphans is an inspiring message that one person could indeed affect positive change.
Actor Gerard Butler gives an intense performance, channeling the intimidating yet empathic Childers. While it is hard to empathize with his unlikable character in the beginning of the film, you transform along with him in his journey toward the end. You see his intensity and passion when he is preaching, even as his Scottish accent is replaced with a very believable Southern drawl. You can feel every bit of anger in the sweat beads on his brow as he pleads with community members to help him with his cause. Equally important to this narrative is his wife Lynn, who patiently and bravely supports him as he sells his business to use the money for the orphanage, flies to Sudan regularly to dangerous missions, and nearly forecloses his home to raise more money for the orphans' food and supplies. Michelle Monaghan was perfectly cast as a woman who appears vulnerable, but has the quiet strength and fortitude to counterbalance Sam's angry and unpredictable outbursts.
Some critics may argue that Machine Gun Preacher relies too much on Sam's boldness and not enough on the character exploration of the children, but I can see the motive. If the job of this film is to embolden people to do more to help the situation in Africa, then the goal has been accomplished. Perhaps the director, Mark Forster, wanted the audience to feel for the children's plight without exploiting them.
Anyone can identify with San Childers, whether wealthy, poor, a victim, a perpetrator, a religious person, or an atheist. If the point is to move people across the board into action to save these children, then I think Machine Gun Preacher does this brilliantly. Of course the children deserve their own narrative, as they are victims of a man that would make Osama Bin Laden look tame in comparison. But they need our immediate help even more. The primary question in my mind after the film was: why don't more Americans know about the so-called Lord's Resistance Army, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent people they have killed for nearly three decades? Why don't they know that this army forces children to hack their own parents with a machete to death in order to instill violence and self hatred in their young hearts... and making it impossible to return home? Why don't they know that this army decapitates the lips, ears, arms and legs of these children and other villagers to punish them?
While I have always been a donor to Unicef, UNRWA, and St Jude's Hospital, this film compelled me to do two things: First, I donated to Sam Childer's cause at Machinegunpreacher.org/donate. Secondly, I decided to register and participate in the Global Forum on Human Trafficking through Notforsalecampaign.org. The primary victims of slavery still alive in this world are women and children from Sudan to Armenia, Thailand to Brazil. Machine Gun Preacher challenges us to take part in this narrative -- through the eyes and experience of fellow American Sam Childers. As I wrote earlier, I was a basketcase after watching this film, but I have now filled my basket with an arsenal of tools to try and make a difference in these innocent lives, the start of my own journey from a Link TV journalist, to an activist.
Link TV Journalist Blanche Shaheen had the opportunity to interview Machine Gun Preacher stars Gerard Butler and Michelle Monaghan about their experience making the film. Watch the conversation here:
To learn more about Blanche Shaheen, visit www.Blanchestudio.com