A thoroughly bleak and chilling portrayal of the life of a child soldier, Beasts of No Nation examines the futility of civil war and the devastating effects it has on the lives of those caught in its grip.
From Kid to Killer
His world is shattered when growing tension in his country breaks out in civil war and his village becomes a battleground. Agu’s father is able to pay for his wife and two younger children to be taken to safety but Agu and the rest of his family stay behind to defend their property from looters.
Believing them to be spies, the government forces execute Agu’s family, forcing him to flee into the jungle where he stumbles into the path of a rebel faction known as the NDF. The charismatic yet paranoid Commandant (Idris Elba) takes Agu under his wing and initiates him into the militia. Very quickly, the young Agu begins to lose his innocence as it is eroded by the brutal atrocities in which he is forced to become involved.
Whilst it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing, outstanding performances and rich visuals expertly paint the horror of a childhood lost to the worst depravities of warfare.
The Truth Behind the Tale
Beasts of No Nation depicts a truly grim situation in which young boys, who have lost their parents to war, are indoctrinated into a life of violence by an egotistical maniac obsessed with building his tiny empire. It’s like Lord of the Flies meets Oliver Twist meets Heart of Darkness.
As shocking as the film may be, the reality is often worse. According to War Child, there are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today, roughly 40% of whom are girls. Children are often forced to commit horrendous acts of violence against members of their own family. This discourages them from leaving the militia groups as they fear ostracisation if they return home.
The abduction and recruitment of children by militia groups gained a surge of worldwide attention a few years ago when the Kony 2012 film went viral. The film intended to highlight the actions of Ugandan guerilla leader Joseph Kony and the barbarous track record of his group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony may have become infamous as a result but he remains at large and the use of children in warfare is still a huge and very serious problem.
Storytelling for Empathy
In a recent interview, director Cary Fukunaga was asked why he wanted to bring this story to the screen. In his reply he mentioned that he liked to make films about the things that are important right now on our planet,
You see ISIS now bragging about their child soldiers. So they’re just things to me that I find on many levels infuriating especially if, you know… where we imagined we’d be in the 60s and 70s in terms of development of the planet and looking outwards and yet we seem to be tearing ourselves asunder.
In another interview, actor Idris Elba touched on the issue of compassion fatigue and the use of films like this for raising awareness,
How do you expect everybody to pay attention to every single crisis? It’s through the storytelling and films and documentaries and news reports where people can sit back and have a look at someone else’s life… This is film I think is very timely… If it highlights, if it makes people stop and go ‘wow, let me check this out a little bit more’, you know, I think that’s a good thing.
Empathy Action’s educational, interactive simulations are designed exactly with this in mind. There are a lot of crises in the world and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by them. News reports, books and films all have a role to play in helping us understand these issues but the closer to the situation we feel, the more we will want to take action.
Visit our simulation page to learn more about how you can raise awareness of these injustices and encourage others to get involved in putting a stop to them.
Beasts of No Nation is available to watch on Netflix and has a 15 rating.