Facing Darkness, a new, feature-length documentary film, tells a story that is, as they say, ripped from the headlines: how two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly, a Texas physician, and Nancy Writebol, a Christian missionary, contracted the deadly Ebola virus during the 2014 Ebola epidemic that killed thousands across Liberia and west Africa.
Brantly and Writebol were members of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization led by Franklin Graham, its president and CEO who acted as executive producer of Facing Darkness and also appears prominently in the film. Brantly and Writebol were working together at a small Liberian hospital when the first cases of Ebola, a stone-cold killer of a disease in which, at the time, there were no known cures, started showing up among the people there.
There were only two organizations in all the world, Samaritan’s Purse and Doctors Without Borders, that were in Liberia at the time and willing to treat those infected with the disease. The rest of the world turned a blind’s eye to it.
When Brantly, whose wife Amber and his two young children were living with him in Liberia, suddenly developed Ebola, along with Writebol who was working with him, it stirred the attention of the United States government and American and international media, and shined a badly needed light on the disease and how it was ravaging the families and population of west Africa. He and Writebol survived due to the experimental drug, ZMapp, which had never been used on humans before.
In recent weeks Facing Darkness has been shown twice across the country in special showings at theatres, the latest being this week, Easter week. It will soon be released in DVD, Blu Ray, and Digital HD—and it certainly deserves a wider audience, given the extraordinary real-life events it portrays featuring on-camera interviews with the Brantlys, Writebol and her husband, also a missionary worker, and many other members of the Samaritan’s Purse medical team, both Americans and Africans serving side by side at great personal risk to themselves as the disease threatened to overwhelm them and spread far beyond Liberia’s—and Africa’s—borders.
Naturally, considering the involvement of Samaritan’s Purse, the movie—directed by Arthur Rasco—has a Christian theme with a message of hope and God’s love even in the worst of circumstances, such as what was occurring then in Liberia (and still occasionally occurs—there are still Ebola outbreaks there). But this should not dissuade others from seeing Facing Darkness when it becomes more commercially available. It has drama, suspense, emotional ups and downs, unexpected turns of events, interviews with remarkable people, and miracles medical and otherwise. And it opens your eyes to a country and a people who have surely suffered more than most, and deserve better.
In one poignant sequence in the film Joseph Gbembo, a sweet-faced Liberian man who works for Samaritan’s Purse, lists the names of his family members who lost their lives from Ebola. Several of them left children behind, and Gbembo is now raising them by himself. He now has sixteen children.—Kevin Nelson