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My problems with this film had absolutely nothing to do with the filmmakers who have done an excellent job of recording both an individual and a national story, not, I would think, without some risk, if only because they spent a a great deal of time with their subject in a country where he has good reason to be hated. Just below the surface of the story of the evangelist/former genocidal soldier General Butt Naked, lies the whole anguished story of numerous countries trying to recover from hideous tragedy by confronting the truth and even rendering some justice, but not so much that old wounds are torn open. Moral ambivalence is all over this film and it is very personal as the former General goes about seeking forgiveness from people to whom he or his have done unspeakable things. Do they really forgive him, or does the camera call forth a certain desire to play the role called for? The question lingers all through the meetings in question (some with people living with striking nobility in the most abject of circumstances). And the newly minted evangelist does do some admirable things and have some admirable effects, but his personal courage is also fitful and another question that necessarily lingers is the degree to which he has remained a wily manipulator. This was not an easy film to watch, not least because it keeps its sickening contradictions clearly in view. I'm glad I saw it, but I wouldn't want to watch many like it in a week or even a year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Imagine facing a man who killed your husband or losing both your legs
to him and this very person asks for your forgiveness. Worst yet how
about watching this very man go on public television and admitting to
killing 20,000 of your fellow countrymen, and no justice being served
to him. Sounds far fetched, but it is the reality that the country of
Liberia just went through.
The Redemption of General Butt Naked beautifully documents the real life story of Joshua Milton Blahyi aka General Butt Naked. During Liberia's civil war he was a warlord who ordered and participated in the killing of 20,000 Liberians. During the peak of his notoriety a preacher came to his stronghold and led him to Jesus, effectively changing his life and transforming him from a warlord to a preacher.
Throughout this movie one wonders if Blahyi's conversion is truly genuine or a means to manipulate the people of Liberia and avoid severe consequences for his actions. What's most poignant about this film is Blahyi's faith. Whether you believe him or not, its definitely what's central to his life. Although the past continues to haunt him we see a man who truly believes that his God has forgiven him of his sins, yet continues to seek for the forgiveness of his victims. This for me emphasized the authenticity of his faith and leads one to wonder why God decided to use such a man.
This was a truly moving film that will make one think of the cost that comes with forgiveness. We all have baggage, but it seems more apparent when justice isn't served to a man who clearly deserves punishment for his wrong doing. This of course raises another question, how does that fit in line with the very God this man worships?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Imagine if Heinrich Himmler didn't commit suicide right after World War
II, then disappeared and returned to Germany ten years later,
re-inventing himself as a Protestant Minister. Substitute the nation of
Liberia for Germany, and you end up with 'The Redemption of General
Butt Naked'. Yes, the General was a real life person, who was a mass
murderer during the Liberian Civil War, circa 1996. He would walk
around completely naked, holding a machete, and hack peoples' body
parts off. In addition to personally committing heinous acts of
genocide, he also led a group of disaffected followers, including child
soldiers (around 10 years of age, known as the Butt Naked Brigade), who
would often kill people with rocket-held grenade launchers. According
to Wikipedia, 'Butt Naked' also participated in rituals involving human
When Directors Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion first introduce us to the General, he's now known as Joshua Milton Blahyi, an itinerant evangelist, whose main preoccupation is seemingly to make amends to the victims of his crimes. One extremely sad case was that of his bodyguard, Senegalese, who had the misfortune of failing to note a visit paid to the General by a local minister. The General became angry when Senegalese claimed he saw no evidence of a visitor to the General's compound, so he shot him in both of his legs and left him bleeding for a week in a dirty room. As a result of his injuries, and lack of immediate medical attention, Senegalese's legs had to be amputated. Blayhi goes to visit Senegalese (who's seen in a dilapidated wheelchair), who accepts the former warlord's apology. Later, Senegalese contracts pneumonia and dies.
Blahyi also attempts to make amends by contacting some of his former soldiers, many of whom are now drug addicts, and establishing a shelter for them where they participate in revival meetings. Around 2009, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in Liberia and Blahyi was one of the few participants who admitted guilt and apologized in public to his victims. As a result of Blahyi's skillful expressions of remorse, the Commission recommended amnesty for him and he was never prosecuted (the Commission did recommend prosecution for others who failed to show any contrition). As a result of going public, Blahyi began receiving death threats and fled to neighboring countries (such as Ghana and Nigeria) as he couldn't stand the heat. He returned two years later, only to find most of his former soldiers having abandoned the shelter and back to taking drugs. On a note of hope, one young man was able to avoid going back to using drugs and now has a job and a family. Blahyi's own family, including his wife and children, seem to be disappointed in him, after he returns home, after two years in exile.
Strauss and Anastasion never take a definitive stand as to Blahyi's sincerity. There is a revealing scene where Blahyi half-heartedly hugs one of his victims with one arm, a young man whose entire family was wiped out by the General and his followers, with the other arm clutching his Blackberry in his back pocket. Another scene features a teenager, who lost an eye when the General smashed his knife in her face when she was an infant. It's hard to know whether the victims here really accept Blahyi's apologies or whether deep-down, they're still afraid of him.
Despite all of his public displays of contrition, the former Butt Naked has never been brought to the bar of justice. He comes off as a Svengali-like figure, even as an evangelist, mesmerizing his current followers just as he mesmerized his criminal gang in the past.
I question whether it's a good thing that Strauss and Anastasion have provided a former genocidal murderer with a platform for his dubious activities. While in exile, the former Butt Naked stays in nice hotel rooms while many of his former followers and victims, live in squalor. And do we see the newly minted minister contributing any money to his victims, profits he's earned as President of End Time Train Evangelistic Ministries Inc.?
Most people will probably be ready to forgive Blahyi, as he appears to be quite charming. But why should the book be closed on all of his 'cold cases'? If a person committed a homicide here in the United States years ago, I don't believe there is a statute of limitations in terms of prosecuting such a person for his crimes. Why should there be one for General Butt Naked?
Let me just cut to the chase here: teens & up, you should see this. (There are some very mature themes & graphic images.) This documentary is the story of a man who was a general in the army during the Liberian civil war years ago. He & his brigade were known for running around nude as they committed their numerous atrocities. They were *highly* feared!!! The name "Butt Naked" might make *us* blush or giggle, but the very mention of it struck deep fear in the hearts of Liberians. This man & his troops were evil incarnate! Some of the things they did are simply unspeakable. However, the general laid down his weapons & stopped fighting in 1996...and eventually became a born-again Christian! I'll let you find out the rest! His story --- especially his life since his conversion --- as well as those of several of his former soldiers AND his victims/victims' families is what this documentary covers. I think I felt just about every major emotion I have multiple times. One of my favourite things about this film? It *never* tries to sway you or tell you what to think or how to feel about all of this. I would honestly like to own a copy. Never thought I'd say that about something with such a title!
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