The Good Lie: A Film About Heroic Perseverance
Americans watch horror movies. The Lost Boys and Girls live them.
“The Good Lie” calls much needed attention to the story of The Lost Boys and Girls and their nation, South Sudan. Anyone familiar with the 2006 documentary “God Grew Tired of Us” will recognize its presence as the skeleton for this new telling that lays out a journey experienced by more than 20,000 people. “The Good Lie” paints the story of loss, tragic struggle, self-sacrificial love, and hope, while still maintaining the historical accuracy of “God Grew Tired of Us.” Keep an eye out for announcements of Rebuild South Sudan sponsored watch parties of “The Good Lie” in early 2015.
“God Grew Tired of Us” follows John Dau’s story, a moving history that can change the viewer; it changed me. “The Good Lie” pulled my soul several layers deeper into an experience that I’ll never know first hand. Hauntingly beautiful scene after scene draw me into the sorrow of this journey ignited by war. This is as close as I can come to experiencing the desert burial of a companion dead from starvation or choosing to drink urine out of the resolve to live. I hold my breath in a temperature controlled theater watching soldiers pass by children holding their breath in the African bush. One child gives himself up to save the rest. I exhale grief. Michael and Deborah Kuany are close to my mind as I imagine these people that I know hiding and running from soldiers.
“The Good Lie” dramatization of the Sudanese Civil War in the 80’s is gut-wrenching but not overdone. It’s a trustworthy rendition careful to include slivers of joy and hope. At the beginning of the flight into a vast desert, the children have energy. Hunting down an animal is teamwork well worth celebrating. But energy wanes. Most of the traumas these kids went through in the wilderness are the things that Americans would see in horror movies, movies we make to intentionally scare ourselves, to manufacture fear for an adrenaline rush. The horrors of the African desert aren’t made up though. Real kids actually faced unending fear and grief at the hands of bona fide horror: Swimming in a river of dead bodies, flesh shriveled to bone, flies on bodies, gunfire, screaming and death.
There is no easing into the American culture when you come from Kakuma, a desolate Kenyan refugee camp the Lost Boys and Girls ultimately reside in for 10 or more years. Despite passing around an ice cube to give refugees an idea of what winter is, they are not prepared. It is both hilarious and heart breaking to watch these characters navigate the American Dream one misunderstanding at a time. What is packaged butter served in airplane cuisine? “I’ll give you a call,” is lost in translation. Imagine never having seen a cell phone before. Or an apartment, for that matter. A door with a lock and key is all new. And even though the refugees are in a “better place,” they never stop longing for their families, their tribes; “The Good Lie” excels at narrating this.
Americans hold dearly the value of family. “The Good Lie” exposes the depths to which societies and families were destroyed (and unfortunately are still being destroyed). It calls attention to the ache that comes when a loved one is lost, whether by death or physical separation, to the intense joy of being reunited with someone you thought was gone forever, and to all the sacrifices made along the way. This is a connecting point that this telling holds out to its wealthy audience. Where do our stories overlap? We love and long for our people. Family is community, and family is tribe whether you were brought together by blood, ethnicity, or circumstance.
Reese Witherspoon’s character bookmarks the experience of the many Americans who have decided to enter this story with Lost Boys and Girls they know. Michael Kuany, a lost boy, shared with me in my own loss, and has allowed me to share his. Witherspoon’s character illustrates the solidarity that has been formed between South Sudanese and Americans: It’s not calculating whose loss is worse, it’s allowing for companionship in loss.
“The Good Lie” closes with an epilogue reporting that the Lost Boys and Girls who came to the US received an education and have become successful professionals. True. And, having never lost a sense of tribe, many of these Lost Boys and Girls have taken their education back to South Sudan. Armed with resources, those who were at the bottom of the refugee social class system are now among those skilled to help rebuild their nation. John Dau (John Dau Foundation), Valentino Achak Deng (VAD Foundation), Daniel Majok Gai (Project Education South Sudan), Andrew Mandis (Educate South Sudan), and Michael and Deborah Kuany (Rebuild South Sudan) are just a few.
“The Good Lie” is another tool we now have to to invite people into the story of the Lost Boys and Girls, but the history in “The Good Lie” leaves off before South Sudan became its own distinct nation in 2011. These Sudanese Refugees now deeply identify as South Sudanese, and a particular strength of the movie is that the actors themselves are South Sudanese. Today the new nation of South Sudan is in a new crisis, a new war. As the current president, Salva Kir, and the former vice president, Riek Machar, vie for power, the people suffer. Tribes have turned against each other, and those in power are doing little to encourage their followers into the way of peace. This nation that thought peace had come is once again crying out for peace in a new civil war.
Join us in the quest for a peaceful South Sudan whether it is donating to support the Sustainable Supplies Initiative or the Jalle Peace School, hosting a watch party (“The Good Lie” or “God Grew Tired of Us”), or volunteering with us (email firstname.lastname@example.org)!