The Redemption of General Butt Naked

This amazing docu confronts the contradictions of reconciliation in a war-ravaged continent.

With: Joshua Milton Blahyi, the Butt Naked Brigade, David "Senegalese" Johnson, John Kun Kun, Josie Blahyi, Yormi Johnson, Lovetta Wilson.

“The Redemption of General Butt Naked” tells of Joshua Milton Blahyi, a feared and despised Liberian warlord who, by his own reckoning, was responsible for the savage slaughter of 20,000 men, women and children during the civil war before he laid down his arms and transformed himself into an evangelical preacher. Combining archival footage of Blahyi’s past atrocities with a five-year chronicle of his self-proclaimed redemption and public amends, Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion’s amazing docu confronts the contradictions of reconciliation in a war-ravaged continent. Blahyi’s flamboyant self-promotion, alternately as killer and as savior, should ensure niche play.

While some consider Blahyi’s conversion a trick to escape retribution, the similarities between his “evil” and “good” incarnations — both highly theatrical, both granting him plum parts in powerful mythologies — almost render such speculation irrelevant.

Blahyi came by his moniker honestly. He and his army of forcibly recruited children went on the warpath wearing only shoes, believing their nakedness bestowed invincibility, magically protecting them from bullets. Sometimes they donned wigs, masks or women’s clothing, further means of appearing “unnatural” and unnerving. They moved through towns and villages, mowing down everyone in their path with blades or bullets (the general admits to preferring the feel of a cutlass piercing flesh), dashing babies’ heads against walls, even practicing cannibalism and human sacrifice.

Blahyi openly confesses that he took real pleasure in causing pain. He even recounts how he used Hollywood movies, showing an actor dying in one movie and resurrected in another (the filmmakers here provide illustrations) to convince his pint-sized soldiers of their immortality.

After his alleged spiritual epiphany, Blahyi is shown pouring the same manic enthusiasm that fueled his killing sprees into impassioned sermons. Not content to merely address his flock, he holds revival meetings all over a country that has no reason to trust or believe him, his professions of remorse to his victims often eliciting tears and forgiveness. He invites the camera into the slums where his ex-soldiers, now addicted to drugs, lie in squalor. He shows how he is rehabilitating them through religion, decent housing and clean living.

Apparently first among the warlords, he agrees to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, admitting the horrific nature of his war crimes, his prompt action winning him complete amnesty. But his non-sentence provokes death threats, and Blahyi abandons his good works to flee into exile, where the filmmakers show him lying around his hotel room while most of his “boys” backslide into drugs and hopelessness, disillusioned by his flight.

Helmers Strauss and Anastasion doubtless intend to raise serious questions about the nature of change, forgiveness and redemption, all burning issues in war-torn Africa. But in contrast with Anne Aghion’s examinations of collective reconciliation in Rwanda, Blahyi’s larger-than-life nature and myriad, admittedly fascinating contradictions dominate all discourse.

Uneven tech credits render the film’s timelines and sequences of events occasionally confusing, and the catch-as-catch-can camerawork is distinguished mainly by the primo access to its subject.

The Redemption of General Butt Naked

Production: A Part2 Pictures production in association with Mad Monitor Prods. (International sales: the Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion. Executive producers, Gregory Henry, David Shadrack Smith. Co-producers, Ryan Hill, Ryan Lobo. Directed by Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Strauss, Peter Hutchens, Ryan Hill; editor, Jeremy Siefer; music, Justin Melland; re-recording mixer, Jacques Boulanger; associate producer, Todd Wendel. Reviewed at Final Frame, New York, Jan. 13, 2011. (In Sundance Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: Joshua Milton Blahyi, the Butt Naked Brigade, David "Senegalese" Johnson, John Kun Kun, Josie Blahyi, Yormi Johnson, Lovetta Wilson.

More Film

  • Lion King merchandise

    'The Lion King': Disney Targets Nostalgic Adults With High-End Merchandise

    Does Nala wear lipstick? Probably not, but “Lion King” fans can celebrate the release of the live-action remake with a new line of makeup that’s part of a whole pride of other items themed to Disney’s live action redo. For about $40, the Can’t Wait to Be Queen eyeshadow palette by Luminess Cosmetics includes shades [...]

  • 'Cats' Movie Trailer: Watch Taylor Swift,

    'Cats' Trailer Drops: Watch Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson in Movie Musical

    Universal has released the first trailer for its film adaptation of the Broadway play, “Cats,” starring Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and James Corden. Based on the book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, the musical follows the Jellicle cats, a family of felines who go before the group’s leader Old Deuteronomy to [...]

  • Yvonne StrahovskiCritics' Choice Awards, Arrivals, Los

    'Handmaid's Tale's' Yvonne Strahovski Joins Chris Pratt in 'Ghost Draft' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Yvonne Strahovski is in negotiations to join Chris Pratt in Skydance’s sci-fi pic “Ghost Draft,” sources tell Variety. “Lego Batman’s” Chris McKay is attached to direct. “Ghost Draft,” written by Zach Dean, is about a man drafted to fight in a future war where the fate of humanity relies on his [...]

  • Dreamville Dreamers doc

    J. Cole's Watchful Eye, All-Nighters and Weed: Inside Dreamville's 'Revenge' Doc

    Having the No. 1 project in the country is old hat for J. Cole, but the instant success of Dreamville’s highly-anticipated “Revenge of the Dreamers III” collection, which features collaborations with more than 25 artists, writers and producers (among them: Cozz, Omen, Bas, J.I.D., EarthGang and Ari Lennox), took many by surprise. The first installment [...]

  • The True Adventures of Wolfboy

    Karlovy Vary Film Review: 'The True Adventures of Wolfboy'

    Most teenage boys would kill for a few whiskers, but not Paul. At 13, he already has a full face of hair, and his peers treat him like a freak for it. So, too, does Martin Krejčí’s “The True Adventures of Wolfboy,” although the movie argues that perhaps being a freak isn’t such a bad [...]

  • 'Top Gun: Maverick' Trailer: Tom Cruise

    Tom Cruise Drops First Trailer for 'Top Gun: Maverick' at Comic-Con (Watch)

    Tom Cruise made a surprise appearance at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday to hype the forthcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” and receive mass adoration from Hall H. “I felt it was my responsibility to deliver for you,” Cruise told the crowd, tugging local heartstrings by reminiscing on the original “Top Gun” shoot in Downtown San Diego. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content