John Bul Dau, one of four Sudanese "lost boys" profiled in the moving documentary God Grew Tired Of Us, talks often about not being able to cry. He means it literally and figuratively, depending on different periods of his life. After the Muslim government in northern Sudan ordered its troops to sterilize or execute all Christian men in the south, Dau and other orphaned "lost boys" initially fled to Ethiopia, but circumstances led them to trek more than a thousand miles south to a U.N. refugee camp in Kenya. Most didn't survive this sub-Saharan "trail of tears," a misnomer only because dehydration dried out any outward expressions of grief. Speaking from Syracuse, New York, where he emigrated as part of a charitable program to place Sudanese refugees, Dau doesn't cry because he's so focused on doing right by the people who depend on him to succeed and send help.
And sending help does seem to be the primary purpose of God Grew Tired Of Us, which at worst plays like surface-level propaganda, however touching and persuasive its message turns out to be. When Dau and three other "lost boys" come to America—two in Pittsburgh, two in Syracuse—the film captures remarkable footage of these impoverished Third World men suddenly thrust into the land of plenty. A trip to the grocery store becomes a fantasia of ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, pre-prepared food, and donuts with sprinkles, and back at their apartments, basic accommodations like electricity and running water are a marvel. (In a funny bit, one of them prepares an odd mush out of milk and Ritz crackers smashed with a hammer.) But before long, their assimilation takes a potentially destructive turn, as some refugees embrace the consumerist tendencies of their adopted country while forgetting their roots.
At bottom, God Grew Tired Of Us seeks to promote the same message as Dau: Please do something to stop the killing in Sudan and bring long-overdue relief to the suffering many. To that end, the film unquestionably succeeds in stirring consciences, since the plight of these "lost boys" speaks to the human capacity for courage and resilience in the face of unimaginable tragedy. And yet its message-first drumbeating, though affecting, doesn't entirely forgive its superficiality in coming to grips with the problems of assimilation and the realities of urging Westerners to the cause. It's convincing as everything but a piece of good filmmaking.