White American criminal picks up heavy weapons and rampages through Sudan in the name of justice.

THIS WOULD PROBABLY be a disturbing enough movie without adding the caveat that the entire story is meant to be absolutely true. In the sense that any large-budget action flick can ever be.

Sam Childers, the protagonist of the film Machinegun Preacher, was a former drug dealer who grew up in Pennsylvania, before ultimately leaving his evil ways to help rebuild huts destroyed by war in Southern Sudan.

There he would find god.

God would tell him to build an orphanage and go retrieve children abducted from their homes by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. And to dress up like Rambo and kill as many baddies in the process as possible.

But the lack of truthfulness in the ‘true story’ isn’t what makes the idea of the film so loathsome.

The movie (and, in many cases, Childer’s moral choices in general) have been roundly panned by the universe of people who have anything to do with genuinely making South Sudan a better place. Even the venerable publication Foreign Policy weighed in with snark.

It’s unlikely that Childer’s account of his life in Sudan will stand up to scrutiny. Foreign Policy’s superficial digging into his recounting of events has left little credibly intact. He was not supported or endorsed by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, he recanted claims to trading arms, and it is unlikely that a lone foreign hero would have been a serious pest in the side of one of Africa’s most savage militias without getting thoroughly swatted.

But the lack of truthfulness in the ‘true story’ isn’t what makes the idea of the film so loathsome. It’s just how little progress our storytellers have made in some respects since Joseph Conrad first wrote his dark tale of the Congo.

It’s that the story of South Sudanese independence and the diplomatic miracles that brought about Africa’s newest nation are not the stories that the world-at-large will hear. Instead, audiences will come to know of the region via the violent fantasies of a white foreigner who feels he can solve Africa’s problems at the barrel of a gun. After so many centuries of this approach, are we really still so incapable of escaping Dark Continent thinking?

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