Beasts of No Nation: A Starting Point

In SCOM 318: Genocide and Refugee Advocacy, we’ve been encouraged to share stories and start conversations about what we’ve discussed in class. For many of us, I fear, we have struggled to do so. I say this because I’ve struggled to bring it up. I find myself having my everyday conversations and not wanting to burden such pleasantries with deep subject matter. But as we’ve learned, we cannot be advocates if we’re not talking about critical issues. In this post, I hope to offer a seemingly painless way to spark a conversation about the subjects we’ve touched on in class.

Simply, I suggest watching Beasts of No Nation. The film is available on Netflix for streaming, although it is no longer available in theaters nor is it in Redbox. The movie depicts a young African boy named Agu whose village becomes ravaged by war. His mother, sister, and baby sibling are able to escape, but the men are left behind. Per the request of his father, Agu runs away. Unfortunately, running away causes him to face new problems. After wandering through the barren land, Agu is swarmed by a mercenary army and forced to become a child soldier before the sun goes down. The movie depicts his story from there and, ultimately, the beast he becomes.

I recommend the movie for one major reason: it’s fascinating. While we’ve spent weeks reading dozens of articles, the average Joe won’t dedicate that much time to the cause. But if they’re looking for the next binge-watch on Netflix, they might consider the 2+ hour film. Secondly, I’d recommend the movie because it’s fairly accurate. Based on the book, it depicts what is common for so many Africans forced to flee their homes.

Although it has been criticized, I think the writers choice to keep the story from being in a specific African country keeps it personal. As we have recently learned, naming an injustice by its geographical location allows the bystander to think “that always happens there.” But the story of Agu is just that–it’s his story. There’s no real country, real rebel group, real child soldier leader being depicted. The film tugs at the heart strings of the viewer and draws them in.

My critique for the film is that it lacks resolution. Of course, it is somewhat realistic but the ending was disappointing to me. I wanted to see Agu attempt to adjust to a civilized culture. I wanted to see his struggle to participate in a society and continue to grow. This may be more of a personal wish, but I think a “next step” would leave the viewers with a stronger outlook.

Annie Kate Swain

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