The search for freedom from oppression, justice for all people, and place where one voice can make a difference; this is a driving force for many citizens longing for lives of meaning within society. We yearn for opportunities; we fight for them; and in a world of political chaos, many will die for them.
Ideologies can cause as many divisions within a country as unifications, and individuals feel torn apart by political confusion filled with nasty rhetoric, candidate distrust and unimaginable (and deceitful) newsfeeds. Party loyalty is at battle with personal conscience, while candidates contend that their rise to power is destiny, earned status, survival of the fittest, or “I’m better than the alternative.”
Why do citizens spend more time fighting against a particular party or candidate than working for the things they really believe in? Is society so engulfed by conspiracy theories, half-truths, frustrations, anger, false hopes and campaign promises that they are willing to believe anything and everything just as long as it doesn’t come from an opposition party (or the media they don’t trust)? Are citizens willing to put the future of a country (and personal freedoms) in the hands of political animals seeking power for power’s sake?
These are the questions and concerns that can cause sleepless nights, co-worker fights, family squabbles, and the battleground between wrongs and rights. These topics, these thoughts, and these scenarios may be ripped from the headlines, but they are also the foundations for award-winning scripts and compelling filmmaking.
Filmmakers of political cinema are interested in every aspect of what makes a society tick. They invite each of us to examine our predispositions and motivations. Think about it. What are the most important issues to you as it relates to your country? Is it the economy or border security? Could terrorism or foreign policy be a deciding factor for a candidate or party you endorse? Does health care, immigration, or the environment provide the hot bed topics for dialogue? Maybe you’re more interested in crime and justice, or war policy, or individual freedoms. For others – race relations and religion are the matters at hand? How much power, control, or government oversight are you willing to accept? Should you take on monumental debt (student or consumer) just so you can have a life beyond your means? Are you more invested in a person running for office or for the policies of a political party? If any of these questions or topics trigger a thought, response or concern within you, then at least on some level, you are connected to the world of politics … even if you don’t realize it.
Those themes (individually or combined) have been the seeds for entertainment narratives throughout history; just examine the stage plays of William Shakespeare, the feature film, The Great Dictator (1940) by film legend Charlie Chaplin, the political microscope of Saturday Night Live skits, and the late night talk show monologues as evidence.
From action flicks, to drama, to sci-fi, to satire and slapstick comedy – political cinema offers observations and commentary in every genre. These movies will ask thought provoking questions, and sometimes they even provide unexpected and extremely uncomfortable answers. Political cinema will also allow the audience to examine individual political leanings while at the same time challenge the nature of those beliefs. Digging at the roots of individual political bias is something that will allow a society to examine just how strong and deep those philosophies are buried.
Filmmakers ask these questions: What influences our thoughts on the problems, priorities, and issues of our political state of mind? Is it the church? The media? Our friends? Our family? Our fears? Our hopes? Our culture? Are we disillusioned by the status quo? Are we driven by anger at the current state of our society? If we are truthful about it, we’ll admit that we are all motivated by something; we are all drawn to a political candidate, party, or cause (or disgusted by them) because of some type of bias … by something established within us (either deep or on the very surface). As difficult as that may be to accept, we know it may be true, and so do filmmakers. That’s why political cinema works.
Many in society spend more time searching for the differences in people than exploring the things that can bring unity and strength. But why? Well, in relation to filmmaking it is because audiences are drawn into drama, and chaos. Without the conflict in a story, there is nothing for a character or characters to overcome (and no reason for audiences to care). There must be some crisis, or some challenge for characters to face. In doing so, they can either become stronger with existing beliefs, become devoured by opposing views, or they will overcome prejudices. These characters may also grow to learn something new about themselves and others, or become transformed by a rediscovery of self and society.
In a strange way, looking at politics through the lens of film allows us to separate from reality long enough to actually examine the reality show we may find ourselves living; sometimes we will discover that fact truly is stranger (and crazier) than fiction.
*Check out the list of political-themed films in this chapter covering many of the topics discussed in this article.
Where do you stand on politics? Do you really know? Can you explain why? Sometimes we may be surprised by what we find when we start answering the real questions impacting a nation. The website isidewith.com will explore some of society’s most pressing questions, and it will allow citizens to examine beliefs in depth.
*Isidewith.com is not affiliated nor endorsed by the GWU Film Critic or Noel T. Manning II
– Noel T. Manning – 10.29.18, 11.06.16