NEW YORK (NBC) -- The filmmaker behind the viral "Kony 2012'' video believes there is a simple reason for the exploding popularity of the short film depicting the human rights abuses of a Ugandan warlord and his guerrilla army.
"I think it's because it's a human story,'' director Jason Russell told TODAY's Ann Curry Friday. "We're all human beings, and for some reason we forgot about our humanity because of politics and because all these things we're talking about have paralyzed us.''
"Kony 2012,'' a 30-minute documentary film that aims to expose the abuses of Ugandan guerrilla Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord's Resistance Army, has received more than 52 million views on YouTube and more than 14 million on Vimeo since it was posted Monday. The viral video has received support on Twitter from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna and Justin Bieber, who combined have more than 40 million followers. Russell crafted the film for Invisible Children, a San Diego-based activist group.
Invisible Children's goal is to have Kony tried in the International Criminal Court, where he is wanted for human rights abuses related to his cult-like army, which allegedly has used child soldiers. Kony is being pursued by government soldiers in four different Central African nations, and last year the United States sent Special Forces troops to train Ugandan soldiers in case of a military intervention against Kony. The video advocates everyone putting up posters of Kony worldwide on April 20 to bring more attention to the issue.
"We can all agree we can stop him this year,'' Russell said. "We're not going to wait.''
The short film has resonated with young people online, bringing to the forefront issues that have been reported for the past 26 years but haven't risen to the top of popular awareness until now. Half a million "action kits,'' which include T-shirts and letterhead on which to write political leaders urging that Kony be stopped, have been ordered worldwide from Invisible Children, according to Russell. Donations from high school and college students also have helped fund LRA Crisis Tracker, a website and application that detail the latest abductions and atrocities by the Lord's Resistance Army, according to Russell.
"These are children and young people 25 and younger are saying, 'Mom, dad, we want you to pay attention to this right now,''' the filmmaker said.
Since the video went viral, Invisible Children has faced several criticisms. Some accuse the group, which was founded in 2003, of advocating for military intervention in Africa and say that it has only put 32 percent of the $8.6 million it raised last year toward direct services. Invisible Children has responded to the critiques with a breakdown of its finances onits website, claiming that 80.46 percent of its money raised was spent on its "mission,'' with 16 percent going to administration and management costs.
"Our model is threefold - the movie, the movement, and the mission,'' Russell told Curry when she cited the criticisms. "The mission is to end the war and rehabilitate these child soldiers, so it's a three-pronged approach. We think different. It's unorthodox on purpose.''
The Lord's Resistance Army originated in Uganda in the 1980s and has been accused of abducting children to be used as sex slaves or soldiers, in addition to murdering thousands of them over the past quarter-century. Kony reportedly has 600 to 1,000 LRA supporters in central Africa, but is allegedly down to only 150 to 200 core soldiers.
"If that happened in San Diego, California, if that happened in New York City - 200 children abducted and forced to kill their parents - if that happened here, if that happened in my home, it would be all over the news,'' Russell said.
The film also has been criticized for oversimplifying a complex issue by boiling it down to 30 minutes.
"In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format, focusing on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights,'' Invisible Children says on its website. "In a 30-minute film, however, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked.''