Saturday, October 24, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: The Big Scary S Word

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

The Big Scary S Word
Directed by Yael Bridge
Festival Information

In today’s increasingly polarized world, there are many political positions and concepts that are portrayed as highly negative. Deeming something as extreme has a tendency to turn people off, and the more that is said to create fear or resentment around a notion, the less likely some people are to ask questions and actually do the research to educate themselves about what it actually means. This has been going on throughout history, and even though it might be hard to deem any analysis as fully objective, it is true that misinformation is incredibly easy to disseminate.

A number of prominent elected officials in the United States, including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, identify as Democratic Socialists, giving their affiliation a much more prominent spotlight. This documentary traces the roots of socialism and how it was instrumental in the founding of the Republican party, among other influential moments in history. Its prominence during the era of McCarthyism in the 1950s and during the Cold War has now led to a vilifying of any association with socialism, something this film seeks to debunk as it explores what it truly means and how it may indeed be more inherently “American” and fair than the current – and younger – system of capitalism.

This film’s title references a line used by Lee Carter, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, to describe the stigma against the ideology that he claims as his own. In one memorable clip, Carter is infuriated by a fellow House member who holds up a tablet showing the flag of China’s Communist party behind him while he is proposing a bill during a session. Carter, and many of the film’s interview subjects, argue that many policies that go against the bottom lines of big corporations or institutions are demonized as equivalent to authoritarian regimes that sound deplorable and horrific to those with alleged “American values,” when in fact they stand for much more than that and would have merit if actually considered.

Though this film speaks mostly to socialism as it exists in the United States, it offers a comprehensive and extremely eye-opening lesson on its history, applications, and its renewed relevance in contemporary politics. It’s unlikely that those who are staunchly opposed to any talk of its potential for good will screen this documentary, but if it does manage to reach an audience that was previously not open to the concept, it’s bound to leave an imprint. This film absolutely makes a strong case for at least giving socialism a chance, chronicling its merits and the way in which society and what constitutes “the left” has indeed shifted tremendously since the founding of this country.


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