The Hollywood movie, “Machine Gun Preacher,” has just opened in South Africa. The film dramatizes the true-life exploits of American Sam Childers, a criminal turned born-again Christian who spreads the gospel, and, yes, machine-gun fire, in Uganda and Southern Sudan.
The movie was panned by critics when it opened in the U.S. last fall. But that was nothing compared to the reception it’s getting in South Africa, where Daily Maverick reviewer Richard Poplak pre-emptively declares it the “worst movie of 2012.”
Poplak is frustrated by the film because he believes that there’s a fascinating story to be told about Childers, who created a paramilitary force to go after the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militia-cum-sect that abducts children and turns them into killers. Childers motto was, “Save the children, at any cost.” Poplak asks, “Is redemption possible through violence? And when all is chaos, is the best sermon not preached through the barrel of a gun?”
The real Childers, Poplak says, is a complicated figure who “undermines his cause simply by waking up in the morning. Bible in one hand and AK in the other – this is a summary of how Childers, and of course how the West, has encountered the continent for centuries.”
None of this, Poplak says, is explored in the film, which he says is the latest example of the West’s “inability to view Africa as anything but a receptacle for charity, and therefore a vector for redemption.”