War Child


As we continue to bask in the rain of hopeflakes commanded by President-elect Obama, coincidental timing brings this doc about Emmanuel Jal, another passionate black activist with Kenyan ties and a progressive political message—just replace the platform of change with Christian hip-hop. Recruited as a child soldier for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, “lost boy” Jal survived civil war, was adopted and smuggled into Nairobi by a kindly British aid worker, and eventually spun his ferocious backstory into internationally successful rap lyrics. First-time director C. Karim Chrobog trails the London-based Jal onstage, to the U.S. State Department, and back to Kenya to visit his family for the first time in 18 years—an uplifting journey weighed down by dry, humdrum convention (attack of the talking heads!); this is social-studies homework, not nourishment for the soul. Few would ever cop to that, but War Child is as limited in its practicality as other well-intentioned awareness-raisers like Darfur Now, War/Dance, or The Devil Came on Horseback—we’re aware; now what? Short of inspiring filmgoers to donate (or teaching Sarah Palin about Africa), what else would prompt a moderately educated viewer to seek out the cinematic equivalent of uncooked vegetables? It’s there in the fine print: A quarter of the distributor’s revenue will be donated to educating displaced children. So yes, now you can stick your money where your liberal guilt is.