User ReviewsAdd a Review
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?
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?
In a war that was infamous for it's violent warlords and militias, Blahyi built himself a sad reputation for literally fighting 'butt-naked' with his personal army, consisting a great deal of brain-washed, drugged child-soldiers and being among the most feared of his kind. Thousands, it not ten-thousands were slain by Blahyi and his "Butt Naked Brigade", after being tortured, raped and often enough cannibalized prior to a death, that would eventually come to the victims like a mercy. Blahyi himself, rather care-free, frank and seemingly unburdened by guilt, would describe his atrocities in stomach-churning details to journalists, such as his habit of sacrificing a child and eating it's heart prior to going to combat.
Of course we might assume that Blahyi would have ended up standing trial for mass-murder, and would have found a deserved demise at the hands of a hangman. We would be mistaken. Blahyi found something entirely different after the war ended in 1997: Blahyi found Jesus Christ and thanks to the act of vicarious redemption (in case you're not a Christian, that means the atonement of all your sins on account of a human-sacrifice in ancient Palestine), total forgiveness for all his heinous deeds. You read that correct and you're not in the Twighlight Zone: the good General never served a day in prison, opting instead to become a reborn Christian and a pastor. With the true charm of the psychopath he soon gathered a new flock and currently runs the rather profitable "End Time Train Evangelistic Ministries Inc" in Liberia.
During the interview with this beast, it is really very hard not to like Blahyi: he is charming, charismatic, obviously intelligent and well-spoken, and he performs his services with the routine of a professional Wrestling promoter. One could almost say that he carries all the hallmarks of a psychopath. To the credits of the filmmakers, Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion, is must be said: they approach both the topic and the person with a professional distance and neutrality. Like good documentary-makers should, they show only the facts and what the camera sees. It is entirely up to the audience to believe in Blahyis sudden, even if convenient conversion or whether the "Hallelujah"-chants of his frantic congregation are just too eerily familiar to similar chants, uttered less than 15 years earlier, but certainly with no less conviction. One should also mention, that members of this congregation were not only members of Blahyis killer-crew, but also victims of Blahyi, whose families were whipped out by the same person whom they applaud skipping and dancing across the stage.
So you can take the title literally or consider the word "redemption" sarcastic, it is up to the viewer. Objectively I can only praise the makers ability to stay neutral: on a personal, moral level I have more difficulties. In comparison, if one would make a documentary on Adolf Hitler as a private person and would come to the final conclusion, that Hitler was a charming person, was pleasant in conversation, kind to pets and children, that would no doubt be true (and countless other documentaries have already concentrated on all the misery that his particular historical figure has caused). However, on the subject of Blahyi and the atrocities of numerous other participants (many who have likewise found their "way to god"), perhaps one would have approached the subject a little more subjective.
This is not so much a criticism of the subject and handling there-of - the documentary get's a decent 7/10 from me - but more of the reaction to it that I have experienced. While watching it, there were numerous viewers in the audience who chanted along said frenetic "Hallelujah"-cries in the movie and later discussed, what a "beautiful example of forgiveness and redemption" Blahyi is. I must admit, this gave me more nightmares than the actual confessions on the atrocities (and you need not look further than other reviews of the film on this same page). But perhaps it's only the moral person in me, that still firmly believes that a criminal should be held accountable by a (worldly) court, and who cares not whether the killer has found Baal, Jesus, Zeus or the Dalai Lama in the meantime. To paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens here, but not only does Religion poison everything, but occasionally a snake can feast and prosper on this poison. For this I would not give a point.