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Kony 2012 Filmmaker Talks Breakdown With Oprah

Ashley Riegle |
October 8, 2012 | 1:54 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Jason Russell sits down with Oprah for exclusive interview (Photo Courtesy of ABC)
Jason Russell sits down with Oprah for exclusive interview (Photo Courtesy of ABC)
On Sunday night's episode of "Oprah's Next Chapter" Oprah sat down in an exclusive interview with Kony 2012 filmmaker, Jason Russell. The media face of relief organization, Invisible Children, Jason has not sat down for an interview since his public breakdown in March. Oprah sat down with the USC film school alum to find out about the overnight success of Kony 2012, how Jason has been recovering, what he is working on now and whether all of the rumors about him are true.

Kony 2012

On March 5, 2012 after 9 years of blood, sweat and tears, Jason Russell and his partners at Invisible Children, released their anticipated online video, Kony 2012. The group hoped the video would get 500,000 views by the end of the year. Within days it had achieved over 1 million views, and quickly went on to be the most viewed internet video of all time. Jason and Invisible Children began receiving hundreds of phone calls and emails and Jason began on a whirlwind tour of interviews and meetings with little to no sleep. It was a wonderful but also overwhelming time. As much positive attention the film garnered, it also generated a lot of backlash from pundits and average people alike. People started questioning the legitimacy of Kony 2012, Invisible Children and Jason as an individual. According to Jason, it got to be too much. He reached his breaking point. Because of the success of Kony 2012 and post-traumatic stress of his 9 years of work and external noise he broke down. He "lost himself in the ego and his ego came crashing down", Oprah concluded after speaking with him.

Jason Russell on the interview circuit (Photo Courtesy of ABC)
Jason Russell on the interview circuit (Photo Courtesy of ABC)

The Breakdown

On March 15, 2012 Jason Russell was found naked and running into the streets in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego. Appearing to be something of psychotic or drug-induced outburst, several people called the police. Various accounts reported that Jason was pounding his fists on the sidewalk, laying in the street, removing his underwear and masterbating. 

The media attention that surrounded this breakdown was intense for Jason and his family. Many people accused him of being on drugs and others accused him of being a closeted gay man who was acting out his repressed sexuality. On top of the personal scrutiny, the media attention on Jason's breakdown shadowed the work that Invisible Children and Kony 2012 were beginning to achieve.


Jason appeared restored in his interview with Oprah, in that he was extremely open about the breakdown experience- what it felt like, what he felt like in the days leading up to it, and how he feels looking back at it. He said he takes responsibility for his actions, and is in some ways grateful for the experience. "I feel like I'm on top of the world. You don't go through something this traumatic, dramatic, public and not learn a lot from it and not grow closer to your wife and your family and the people who are in your tribe. You can't get more broken than laying in the street naked and ranting to yourself".

Devout Christians and lifelong sweethearts Jason and his wife Danica met in musical theater productions as kids. They have been married since 2004 and have two young children, one of whom is included in Kony 2012.

Due to the scrutiny and constant media swell following his breakdown, Jason and his family had to move homes in San Diego.

Despite the upheaval, Jason's wife Danica told Oprah she thinks her husband is now the better version of himself.  

Jason Russell post-hospitalization (Photo Courtesy of ABC)
Jason Russell post-hospitalization (Photo Courtesy of ABC)

Gay and Drug Rumors

Jason describes himself as theatrical and animated and concedes that he was snapping his fingers with attitude in the video. He acknowledged that he's heard the gay rumors. He did not flat-out deny them in the interview. He said he does not know what was in his head the day of the breakdown, but it made him act out and do some strange things.

Jason says that on the day of his breakdown he was absolutely not on drugs. "Zero drugs, no drugs, I don't do drugs. I hadn't taken any drugs at all. Period," Jason said.

Jason spent over a month recovering in the hospital and now spends three days per week at Invisible Children. 


Oprah ended the interview by meeting with Jacob, the Ugandan boy who first inspired Russell's documentary. Jacob said he had a hard time with Jason's breakdown. He felt that it was his fault and wondered what would have happened if they had never met.

He is now in the US promoting Invisible Children's new video, "Move". This next video installment of the Kony 2012 movement encourages people to get out and do something to promote change for the child soldiers. The video addresses Jason's meltdown head-on, as he offers an on-camera apology and urges Kony 2012 activists to get back to fighting against the issue at hand.

To learn more about the interview on OWN, click here

Reach Staff Reporter Ashley Riegle here. Follow her on Twitter here



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