Watch the film at PBS Frontline.
Take a deep breath. We’re in for a long ride.
Frontline has for years been a source of award-winning journalism. Through really amazing story-telling, their documentaries have consistently provided the in-depth investigation that allows us, the viewer, to understand more deeply the issues, and/or exposes the injustices and abuses running “behind the scenes.” For me, Documenting Hate was quite different, and not in a good way.
First, here’s what we do get. We understand that many involved in these racist driven events are “everyday people.” They work at businesses and companies all over the country, and some in the military. Through this kind of journalism and other activism, when they are outed, they are then usually dismissed from their employment or assignments. We also understand that the Charlottesville police and other law enforcement agencies completely abdicated their responsibilities during the August 2017 march, and several other events. And, we get a little more educated on how certain white supremacist groups emerge, and how they operate in their training, recruitment, symbolism, and strategies.
However, the reason I felt this was a different kind of documentary is that there was not much, in my opinion, “uncovered” or “revealed.” Much of the film was actually showing, not the movement, but the journalism behind the documentary. We get insights into how A.C. Thomson tracked down certain people using digital forensics and then, well, not much. While interviews with government officials, law enforcement, and even Heather Heyer’s mother are no doubt honorable, what we do we really gain? That small groups can do large amounts of destruction, that law enforcement has been delinquent, that some in these groups are leaving even though they still hold to their ideologies, and that this current uprise (resurgence?) in white supremacy has arisen under the auspices of this current Presidential Administration is, in my humble opinion, unsurprising.
And that, to me, is what was so difficult and painful about watching this. Once one understands what hate is, there is very little that a documentary could do that could bring any more insight, or even a “deeper” understanding. Hate is itself shallow and superficial. There is no nuance, no sense, and therefore, no explanation.
I honor the fact that A.C. Thomson was there, and has been “in the trenches.” This is important journalism. The way to battle the darkness is to shine a light. And you need a lot of light to work the cameras. I look forward the upcoming installments in this series.