Several weeks ago, the Global Mental Health program hosted its first film screening of War Don Don. The movie explores a post-war Sierra Leone in the throws of a court battle to determine who is most responsible for war crimes. I was amazed at the level of balance and thoughtfulness the filmmaker, Rebecca Richman Cohen, displayed through riveting and painful images. I felt an immense tension in understanding the chaos of war and its aftermath: survivors seeking healing and justice, attorneys building cases for and against war criminals, and messiness of determining who is a perpetrator and a victim. After the screening, we had an excellent discussion about the film and some of these aforementioned tensions. We understand that mental health situates itself within the context of political, social and economic forces – and in this film, we could clearly see those forces impacting the interviewees.
More broadly, I am thankful that artists help us understand and empathically connect to major atrocities around the world. This in and of itself is a tremendous feat. An artist must toe the line between representing a painful experience while also avoiding completely emotionally overwhelming the viewer. I am grateful for artists who can do this well – I am particularly thinking of the ensemble of artists who developed 12 Years a Slave and allowed viewers to face a painful American past. In my career, I hope to use art as a tool to break barriers and connect us to painful human suffering in such a way that we feel empathy and have the capacity to take action.