SAN DIEGO — A wildly popular Internet video turned African warlord Joseph Kony into a household name and boosted the international hunt for the brutal rebel leader. Can a sequel do more?
That's the burning question for the small California advocacy group Invisible Children and its follow-up effort, "Kony 2012 Part II." The Associated Press was given a copy of the sequel before its Thursday release.
Part II repeats some of the same slick, inspiring shots as the original of a young global community mobilizing into action. But noticeably missing is the voice of the organization's co-founder, Jason Russell, who directed the first video. Russell was diagnosed with brief psychosis last month after witnesses saw him pacing naked on a sidewalk in a San Diego neighborhood, screaming incoherently and banging his fists on the pavement. His outburst happened shortly after Kony 2012 thrust the group into the global limelight.
The sequel also lacks the kind of narrative that made the original unique. The first Kony 2012 presented the global issue through a child's eyes, with a discussion between Russell, who directed the video, and his young son Gavin about stopping the bad guys.
The latest video is a traditional — albeit hip — documentary that addresses criticisms fired at the San Diego-based nonprofit since its overnight launch to fame.
Among the complaints were that Kony 2012 was too American-centric, that the group spends too little money directly on the people it intends to help, and that it oversimplified the 26-year-old conflict involving Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.
The original video drew some 100 million hits on YouTube, and likely will go down in history as a case study on what can go viral, says pop culture expert Robert Thompson. But the Internet is fickle, he said.
"The fact is, the story has developed in so many odd ways with all the controversy, and the sequel can't really promise the bang of that first video — which is informing people of something they did not know before," said Thompson, a Syracuse University professor. "Now we're getting into the details, which is never that thrilling."
But then again, Thompson added, what goes viral never ceases to surprise.
Ben Keesey, Invisible Children's CEO, said the sequel was made in two weeks. The thinking, he said, was the organization needed to answer to people wanting to know who was behind last month's Internet success that prompted the African Union to send 5,000 soldiers to join the hunt for Kony, and a bipartisan group of 40 U.S. senators to back a resolution condemning Kony.
Keesey acknowledged the challenge in keeping up interest but said the campaign resonates with young people who feel like they're part of a global community with friends across the world through social media.
"It's always hard to keep the momentum on an issue like this, especially because the majority of people watching this have no relationship, no connection to something that is happening thousands of miles away," he said. "Our goal is just to create compelling stories to bring back what the point is — which is right now there are people living in fear of violence and being attacked by the LRA and we need to be reminded of that."
Part II features more interviews with Africans who talk about how the rebel conflict is complex and requires a multipronged approach to stop the warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court for heinous attacks in multiple countries. The LRA began its attacks in Uganda in the 1980s, when Kony sought to overthrow the government. Since being pushed out of Uganda several years ago, the militia has terrorized villages in Congo, the Central Africa Republic and South Sudan.
The video also touts programs Invisible Children supports — including one that involves hanging pamphlets from branches in the African bush for LRA fighters to find so they can learn how to defect from Kony's militia. The LRA has kidnapped thousands of children and forced them to become sex slaves and soldiers.
The stylistic sequel, like the original, is clearly aimed at motivating young people. In the video, youth from the United States and Africa talk about how they will not let up.
Invisible Children calls on viewers to contact policymakers to push for Kony's arrest and then volunteer in their own communities April 20 in a day of action that it wants to culminate with people spreading the message. Invisible Children says people should be creative by using everything from skywriting to mowing the campaign's triangles into sports fields.
The group promises to release the best photographs and clips of those actions — hinting that yet another video may be in the works.