When the U.S. House passed a resolution to call the atrocities in Darfur by their “rightful name: ‘genocide,’” it marked the ?rst time in history that the United States had officially recognized the extermination of a people while the killing was still happening. Unlike the Nazi concentration camps—the scope of their horrors only made clear after Allied troops moved into Germany—the world knows the immensity of evil that has continued to occur in Sudan’s western province. But what can one individual do in the face of such knowledge?
That question is at the center of Ted Braun’s new documentary, Darfur Now, which follows six individuals responding to the crisis in very different ways, from young-mother-turned-rebel-?ghter Hejewa Adam (whose three-month-old son Nasaraldeen was beaten to death by Janjaweed militias) and Ahmed Mohammed Abakar (head sheikh in one of the refugee camps) to Ecuadorean aid worker Pablo Recalde. “[When I looked at what was happening in Darfur],” says Braun, "what I found shocked me—both the nature and magnitude of the crimes and the world’s indifference. I wanted to make a ?lm that would reach a wide audience, and I thought the best way to look at the con?ict from many points of view, and give people hope, [was to] put them in the shoes of people who could make a difference.”
One of these people is Don Cheadle, who had to look at the reality of genocide head-on while ?lming 2004’s Hotel Rwanda. When the ?lm was screened for a group of government officials, he was asked to join a congressional mission to The Sudan and Chad. “Once I’d seen it with my own eyes,” he says, “it was impossible to come back and do nothing. I came back, took stock, and thought, ‘Where do I have in?uence?’ And then I realized, ‘Oh, I’m an actor.’ I go on red carpets and people ask me questions like what does Brad [Pitt] eat. And I say, ‘anything,’ and then I get to go into my thing.”
Cheadle has used his celebrity to line up meetings with presidential candidates like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. The ?lm also follows his travels with George Clooney to China and Turkey to bring up the issue with foreign leaders and open the doors for other advocates for peace. “We can get people in a room,” he says. “Will it make a difference? We don’t have the perspective to measure. But Brad said it best: ‘We can’t get out of the light, and they can’t get in the light. We have to help with that shift.’”
The ?lm also follows Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, as his office digs through piles of evidence before indicting Ahmad Harun, Sudan’s former interior minister (accused of organizing a massacre of civilians and using the Janjaweed militias to displace more than 2 million people from their villages and into refugee camps). When Moreno-Ocampo watched the ?lm and saw refugees referring to him by name in speeches, to inspire hope, he was taken aback. “This is why we do what we do,” he says. “I was a little surprised, but very happy.”
While not everyone has the platform of a movie star or the role of an international prosecutor, Adam Sterling proves that anyone can make a difference. The 24-year-old UCLA grad founded a grassroots organization to pressure international businesses to divest in The Sudan through legislation. Braun shows Sterling beating the bushes in California until his bill is signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s now working on duplicating the efforts in other states. “It’s tough to gauge our success when the goal is not disengagement. The goal is to bring peace to Darfur."
And for the Sudanese men and women who criticize the government in the ?lm, Braun says, “There are plans in place to protect them. That said, Harun is now Minister of Humanitarian Affairs [in charge of the refugee camps he ?lled up]. Both Hejewa and Sheik Ahmed … said to me that they were willing to die to have their stories told. That’s something I wasn’t really prepared for when I went there. I’ve dealt with stories all my life, but I’ve never had a story that was truly life and death."