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Hey, you know how everything is almost too easy and too good right now? How every time you turn on the news or bob-for-memes in the swamp of Twitter, things are just obnoxiously, relentlessly cheerful and happy? Don’t worry! Two new documentaries available to rent from Film Streams are here to remind you that the whole world is a garbage cake with trash frosting…
To be fair, both A Thousand Cuts and The Fight offer hope. This comes in the form of insanely brave, empathetic human beings who refuse to surrender to the woe-is-me nihilism that some of us—like a certain whiny film critic you know—use as self-defense these days. Taken together, the films are a poignant reminder that the world seems to be tap dancing on the lip of an abyss, as civil rights around the world weeble and wobble on a knife’s edge.
Ramona S. Diaz’s A Thousand Cuts takes us to the Philippines, where President Rodrigo R. Duterte apparently considered Trump’s “I could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue” quip as a challenge. Duterte’s regime is enthusiastically pro-murder, as the “war on drugs” he issued has made it a good time to buy stock in bullets.
Filipino journalist and full-on bad-ass Maria Ressa and her crew at Rappler are among the few challenging Duterte’s brutality. In return, she was named one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year in 2018 and was also arrested and still faces eleven billion years in jail for “being mean to Duterte” or something equally as silly.
Diaz’s film has a lot of ground to cover, especially for those of us who are stupid about the strife in the Philippines. Although A Thousand Cuts serves as a great snapshot and primer, Ressa is such an inherently engrossing figure, it’s hard not to want more. The most damning compliment for a documentary is to say that the subject is more interesting than the movie itself. Alas, Ressa in particular is more fascinating than the film constructed around her.
That isn’t to say A Thousand Cuts is anything short of captivating. It can be hard to allocate the amount of time needed to understand all the various injustices around the world that deserve attention. Give the Philippines less than two hours, okay?
Returning your thoughts to America means you should be ready for a fight. Or, more specifically, The Fight, which is a documentary about how the ACLU is working hard to make sure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” doesn’t become just “the pursuit” under President Trump.
There’s no apolitical way to approach Eli B. Despres and Josh Kriegman’s film, which is one of the more masterfully constructed documentaries. The Fight is rife with inspiring ACLUers like Chase Strangio, who is battling Trump’s Trans-in-the-military ban, and Brigitte Amiri, working hard to ensure a young girl doesn’t have to birth a child of rape based on her citizenship status.
There are at least five main fights in The Fight: the reunification of separated parents and children by ICE, the attempt to put a citizenship question on the census, the Muslim ban, and the aforementioned abortion and Trans restrictions. Despres and Kriegman assemble events to tell a coherent, cohesive, depressing-ass story. We meet all the players in a whistlestop tour, get a dollop of context about the ACLU, and then dive into the individual legal conflicts that all crescendo at the same time. Some end with qualified good news, others with explicitly bad news. The Fight’s punches land, effectively reminding us that life defending civil liberties under the Trump regime is like playing a game of whack-a-mole where moles are abso-fucking-lutely everywhere.
Are these films upsetting? Yes. Yes indeed! But they are also beautiful in their defiance. Maria Ressa talks about her willingness to rot in jail while cheerfully packing her bags for a trip. ACLU lawyers read postcards with death threats and hate mail, but one of them keeps a message tacked to his wall as a reminder to keep going.
To unhumorously return to where this review started: Everything is bad everywhere. But we can either become steel hardened by being forged in fire or slink into cowardly shadows. Watch these films and choose the former. Remember the power of journalism with A Thousand Cuts. Feel the passion of righteous indignation with The Fight. Then maybe do something to help both.
A Thousand Cuts = B
The Fight = A-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
- Bedatri D. Choudhury at Hyperallergic actually took a look at both films together as well! She points out they both “tell familiar stories of how governments overrun or deceive their to serve racist, misogynist, and imperialist ideals.”
- Roxana Hadadi of AV Club rightfully points out The Fight is pretty much just “preaching to the choir.”
- Carla Renata of The Curvy Film Critic reminds us that the loss of John Lewis and Reverend CT Vivian make this a good time to watch The Fight.