Reese Witherspoon says latest film inspires with Christian hope
By HILLARY MAST
Hollywood, Calif., Oct 3, 2014 / 04:09 am (CNA) - Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon stars in a new film about the Lost Boys of Sudan, which she says features strong Christian messages of faith in God and perseverance in the face of hardship.
“It is true in lots and lots of Hollywood scripts in my career, it is rare that you get the opportunity to make a film about something that has a great Christian message,” Witherspoon told CNA in a recent phone conference.
“Do these people in Hollywood not think that there’s an incredible majority percentage of America (that) is Christian communities?” she added with a laugh.
Based on true stories of Sudanese refugees, “The Good Lie” opens nationwide Oct. 3 and follows a group of Lost Boys – tens of thousands of mainly Christian children who were orphaned by the Sudanese civil war of 1983 to 2005 and were sometimes forced to be child soldiers – on their journey from their war-torn homes to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
After living in the camp for over a decade, three of the boys, now young men, win a lottery to immigrate to America, where they are met by emotionally isolated social worker, Carrie – played by Witherspoon – who is charged with helping them assimilate and find jobs in Kansas City, Mo.
The refugees, Mamere, Jerimiah and Paul, are played by Sudanese actors Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal.
Witherspoon said that working with these actors, some of whom were also refugees, was an inspiring experience.
“You’d think that anyone who’d had that profoundly upsetting childhood experience would be devastated to the point of not being able to function,” she said. “But these men have been, they’re incredibly spiritual, they’re incredibly positive. They just glow with gratitude for the opportunities that have been presented to them.”
Slowly, Witherspoon’s character opens herself up to the struggles of these young men and allows herself to form a relationship with them. In doing so, finds community for both herself and the refugees.
“She’s not just this perfect, saintly character; she’s actually an imperfect, very flawed human being looking for human interaction as well,” she said.
The actress said the emotional numbness in her character is something that many people in today’s culture could identify with.
“I think in my own life, and with my children, service in our communities is the antidote to the kind of complete self-absorbing society that we live in,” Witherspoon said.
Although the film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence and brief, strong language, Witherspoon said it is appropriate for many kids, and that she plans on taking her own children – ages 10 and 15 – to see it.
“One of the most important things I want people to know is that they can take their kids to see this movie,” she said.
Today, some 700,000 people are still displaced due to the Sudanese Civil War and 50,000 children are expected to die of starvation this year alone due to manmade famines.
After she finished filming, Witherspoon and her then 13-year-old daughter visited the Kakuma refugee camp to learn more about the conditions and get to know some of the roughly 250,000 people who still live there.
“I just didn’t want to do my part of the movie in Atlanta and just be an armchair activist,” she said. “I wanted to see what we were making a film about.”
What stood out to her was seeing children sleeping on concrete slabs and only going to school until about age 10 or 11.
“There’s no reason for them to continue schooling because there’s no job opportunities past a certain age,” the actress said. “And these are all people who are intelligent and leaders in their own communities, and they’re just displaced.”
In addition to releasing a film to raise awareness about the ongoing plight of the Lost Boys of Sudan, the filmmakers have also set up a program, The Good Lie Fund, to support education for those still living in refugee camps.