Guthrie play sheds light on Darfur

The “In Darfur” play reading lent insight to the genocide that is plaguing the region.

Kathryn Nelson

Hope might be dwindling in Darfur as increased violence threatens humanitarian aid in an area wrought by mass killings since 2003. But this past weekend, hundreds gathered to acknowledge what the United Nations called “the biggest humanitarian drama of our time.”

The Guthrie Theater presented a preproduction reading of “In Darfur,” a portrayal of unrestrained genocide which has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The play tells a story about three lives that collide amidst the horrors of rape, pillaging and ethnic-based massacres as told through the eyes of a journalist.

Written by The New York Times researcher and playwright Winter Miller and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof as a collaborator, “In Darfur” brings individual faces to the crimes.

University media law professor Jane Kirtley served as a panelist after the reading, speaking about the ethical

implications of portraying war and conflict situations in the media.

Kirtley said the 90-minute reading could only portray a compressed, snapshot view of the conflict’s complexities, but art as well as journalism play an integral role in revealing the truth during times of war.

Panelist Mark Hanis, founder and executive director of the Genocide Intervention Network, said Minnesotans are taking the lead in advocating for the people of Darfur.

Hanis, a grandchild of four Holocaust survivors, said the legacy of genocide has had a big impact on his work with Darfur.

“It wasn’t a question of ‘Should I do it?’ ” he said, “But rather, ‘What can I do?’ “

A traveling photo exhibit, Darfur/Darfur, followed the discussion and depicted the atrocities of genocide in visual detail.

Photos flashed of a young child with a wide infected gash on its back and children with protruding stomachs from malnourishment.

One photo showed the remnants of a village burned to the ground, a trademark of the Janjaweed militia, the main perpetrators of the genocide. Its name literally means “devil on horseback.”

“You are witnessing history,” said Mark Brecke, a photographer, filmmaker and “In Darfur” panelist.

Brecke spent 10 years documenting ethnic strife and conflict, including the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and said the situation in Darfur bears strong resemblance to the other genocides he’s seen.

In order to take photos of the conflict, Brecke said he spent time living with the Sudanese Liberation Army, a group fighting against the Janjaweed militia.

Although he said he tried to focus his photos on humanitarian issues, Brecke said he shot the gruesome aspects as well.

“In a war zone,” he said, “there are no rules.”

Former African Student Association President Seyon Nyanwleh said Darfur shouldn’t just be a concern for Africans, but for everyone.

“It’s a travesty,” he said.

Nyanwleh, from Liberia, said the University group is working to create a program of education and awareness about Darfur and hopes to sponsor events on the topic in the future.

At 24, Hanis is an example of how idealistic youths can change foreign conflicts. Hanis said he believes young people are the changing force for human rights abuses such as Darfur.

“I want to see the end of genocide,” he said.