Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Movie with Abe: A Thousand Cuts

A Thousand Cuts
Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
Released August 7, 2020 (Virtual Cinema)

The phrase “Democracy dies in darkness” is the current slogan of The Washington Post, and it carries a good deal of weight. The implication that it is possible to transform a free society into a totalitarian one if there is no one there to expose wrongdoing is frightening, and, given history, it’s not at all unrealistic. Documenting the actions that threaten liberties is increasingly essential in an age where technology presents not only the opportunity to share news widely but also an ability to manipulate and disseminate disinformation. It becomes exponentially more vital when powerful leaders go to great lengths to demonize journalism as an enemy.

Maria Ressa runs Rappler, a news website in the Philippines, and is celebrated globally as an important journalist, named the 2018 Time Magazine Person of the Year. In her home country, Ressa documents the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, who ascends from a mayoral position to being elected president in 2016. Duterte’s declared war on drugs, which extols violence and results in mass extrajudicial killings, is the biggest promise of his campaign. When his authority is threatened by the coverage he receives, he turns his propaganda machine on Rappler and the press, demonizing them so that any negative stories about him can be seen as an illicit and politically motivated challenge to his authority.

Duterte’s explicit and unapologetic promises to kill drug dealers were profiled in the very strong and disturbing Oscar documentary short finalist “The Nightcrawlers,” and this film digs deeper into how Duterte uses public opinion and social media to his advantage. His surrogates, who express publicly that they have been told to run for particular offices by the president, accuse anyone who doesn’t applaud wildly for the war on drugs of being addicts, and trolls descend on Rappler’s offices to protest and prove that they are indeed real people. The use of the term “presstitutes” is traced to twenty-six fake social media accounts that then influence three million people, showing the fearsome power of clickbait. Ressa is arrested for a cybercrime law she allegedly violated after it was passed, setting a terrifying precedent for applying laws retroactively, thereby putting any political opponents of Duterte’s at severe risk of incarceration or worse.

This film documents what’s going on in the Philippines, including the late addition of footage from Ressa’s case from this June, but it carries an immensely important call to action for the world. Ressa speaks at a forum in the United States about the similarities between the two countries’ presidents, describing them as macho, populist leaders who have used anger and fear to divide their people. The notion, as explored in this film, that what happens in the United States is tested first in other countries with less stable governments, is deeply worrisome, and the parallels are obvious in videos of Duterte unabashedly making jokes about his penis and women smelling like fish to an adoring, laughing crowd. What this documentary exposes and shows to the world isn’t being hidden, but the implications it brings are cause for extreme concern. Work like Ressa’s and films like this are absolutely critical to the survival of a free society.


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