Thursday, November 7, 2019

DOC NYC Spotlight: Healing from Hate

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its tenth year in New York City from November 6th-15th.

Healing from Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation
Directed by Peter Hutchinson
DOC NYC Screenings

It’s easy to see how the United States has transformed over the course of the past few years, allowing extremism to become more mainstream. The failure of prominent politicians to denounce hate groups as such has led to the normalization of sentiments that in the past would have been considered unacceptable even if they were allowed to exist beneath the surface. Not everyone has moved so far to the right that they actively work to terrorize and discriminate against those who don’t look like them, and understanding how those who were able to escape that life think is an eye-opening and deeply unsettling process.

This documentary looks at a group called Life After Hate, founded by former skinheads and neo-Nazis who, in different ways, all came to see the error of their ways and have since dedicated their lives to rebuilding trust with the people that they hurt and working to help those like them separate from their hateful identities. Those interviewed share painful stories from their pasts, including leaving those they hurt for dead, still unaware of whether they survived, and returning to the sites of their crimes to speak to the people that they hurt about how their views on the world have since changed.

This film enjoys an incredible degree of access to those who have taken steps towards reform, and it also includes explicit footage of those who still preach hate. Richard Spencer is one white nationalist who makes multiple appearances as he engages with those who are attempting to reverse the radicalization, proudly detailing the alleged scientific and sociological evidence that serves as the basis of his views. One rehabilitated interviewee explains that, when he used to go on talk shows, he changed his appearance and wore a suit so that he could be taken more seriously, just part of the invention of the “alt-right,” a term that attempts to hide the white supremacy inherent within its ideology.

This documentary serves as an excellent companion piece to a DOC NYC selection from last year, “Exit,” which presented a more global perspective on those who have left hate groups. Shining a light on the Internet as a way to both allow anonymity and to broaden access to material that previously would have arrived more slowly by mail demonstrates the need for this increasingly prominent worldview to be combated. The terrifying score from Malcolm Francis highlights the urgency of this fight and the brutality that can come from acting on these feelings of hate. Knowing that there are those fervently engaged in educating others like themselves on how to return and atone for what they have done is inspiring, though it’s merely a mild comfort given the seriousness conveyed by this film’s hard-hatting research.


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