I was surprised when I heard that Netflix was doing an original full length film about child soldiers in Africa. It seemed a pretty big leap from House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, particularly starting out the film with subtitles. I am glad to see that Netflix was still out in front and willing to take on something different and important for people to learn about.
Beasts of No Nation was filmed in Ghana, so it was close to my heart having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer there from 99-01. I recall feeling, from the sanctuary that was Ghana, that the rest of Africa was falling into civil war. Later in my career I would travel to rebel held territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo and hear the crunch of bullets under our tires as we went through the “zone rouge”. I would watch soldiers in similarly clad pick-ups in Somalia balance their guns as they ate quickly melting red popsicles in the burning African sun. I would see the handbag and shoes on the edge of a curve in the road, left from a woman in flight. I would silently pray for her safety. We chose the humanitarian route of being equal opportunity in our distribution of medically related assistance and be given safe passage through areas that were otherwise actively at war with each other. I have lived a different version of what they experience in the film. It is real to me. I have dreams of avatar like vividness that brings me back to my times in Africa, luckily my dreams recall the more peaceful of my African adventures, mostly a feeling and a sense of being.
It is an intense film, but no more intense than the war it depicts. The choices that are made in war. The destruction and chaos that it leaves in its wake. The children and families who will never be the same.
I was happy to find one of my actors, Idris Elba, who played Stringer Bell in The Wire. I can only imagine how intense the experience was for Idris when he nearly died on the set from a misstep near a 90 ft ravine in the jungle.
Abraham Attah was the lead child soldier who did an incredible job. I am certain he is a very real national hero in Ghana. Below you can see how he changed over the course of the movie. I can only imagine what it was like to do such a film as a young child, though I know that they did preventative measures to reduce the potentially negative effects on the kids.