In the weeks following the election, I tuned out of current events. Every time I watched the news, some new, surreal horror was revealed, making it hard for me to engage with the facts for more than a few minutes at a time. I’d use the term “hopeless,” but that feels like too dramatic a word to describe a time that I largely spent playing Batman: Arkham Knight and listening to comedy podcasts. It was all too bleak, like grappling with the concept of death. What’s the point?
On Saturday, I participated in the Seattle Womxn’s March, and that shook me out of my blurry funk. I looked around at thousands and thousands of passionate (and hilarious) people standing up to a powerful asshole and realized: This is the point. The things that are good about America are still worth fighting for.
I don’t have experience with this kind of fight, so I found these lessons in (mostly) historical films.
The truth is real and it has power.
Truth-telling always looks more alluring with the power of hindsight; in the moment it can be a terrifying proposition. Good Night and Good Luck (2005) never lets you forget how risky it was for Edward R. Murrow and his staff to stand up to Joe McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare. In the end, many of them paid a steep professional price for their honesty. But by methodically deconstructing the deceitful tactics of a power-drunk bully, Murrow and his team eventually shifted the narrative and brought the blowhard down.
Everyone has a part to play.
In the Chilean film No (2012), Gael Garcia Bernal plays an ad writer who helps take down the Pinochet dictatorship. He’s a pretty unlikely hero, but the PR campaign he helps create on behalf of Pinochet’s opponents utilizes the creativity and enthusiasm of Chile’s artists and activists, allowing the people to be the face of the resistance. Every single person has a role in the fight against authoritarianism. I’m trying my best and I’m just some dumb shmuck.
Cooler heads prevail.
I don’t mean to suggest that we should all just keep calm. What I mean is that when you’re taking on a dangerous narcissist, you literally have to be cooler than them so people can see their desperate weakness in contrast. In The Westerner (1940), smooth-talking smoothie Gary Cooper smoothly brings down the nefarious Judge Roy Bean (Walter Brennan) by appealing to his vanity and quietly taking advantage of his stupidity.
Have a single, simple goal.
The Battle of Algiers (1966) is a complicated film about a complicated time and place. I’m not sure I want to compare the anti-Trump crowd to the Algerian guerrilla fighters who often used violence in the pursuit of independence. I certainly don’t want to compare us to the French colonialists. But much like the battle for independence in India, the tactics ran the gamut from terrorism to nonviolence, and the results were positive in the end because the goal was simple and easy to articulate: freedom from foreign rule.
Find a weakness and never stop poking it.
Robert Altman’s Secret Honor (1984) is an adaptation of a one-man play starring Phillip Baker Hall as the disgraced former President Nixon in the late 1970s. Completely given over to his paranoia and self-pity, he drinks hard, waves around a revolver and bellows about his enemies. He’s a man undone because he was unable to overcome his most obvious flaws and his enemies used it against him.
I’d love to see a Secret Honor 2 come out in five years. Alec Baldwin can star.
This is a worst-case scenario, okay? I’d love to find a more appealing movie representation of sticking together than Spartacus (1960), wherein thousands of Roman slaves are crucified because they all said “I am Spartacus.” But this is the ultimate example of teamwork, loyalty and dedication to a common cause. Besides, I think the odds are low that the current POTUS will crucify his enemies. 10-15% chance, tops.
Fight against misdirection.
This one is more about the reaction to Ava DuVernay’s Selma than the content of the film itself. A great movie was made about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the media somehow allowed a concerted campaign to delegitimize it. Selma (2014) was robbed that year at the Academy Awards (two noms, one of them for Best Song) and was impacted at the box office. The “controversy” was about the portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson, depicted in the film as reluctant to support King, which may or may not have been true. The film’s detractors used tiny, debatable inaccuracies to delegitimize the entire thing. Sound familiar?
(Where were these people when Braveheart won Best Picture? That movie’s about as historically accurate as Who Framed Roger Rabbit.)
Keep at it.
I keep thinking about Boss Tweed, one of the villains in Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York (2002), and one of history’s most successful criminals. He was a U.S. Congressman and party leader who scammed taxpayers for as much as $200 million dollars. Do you know how much $200 million in 1870 is worth today? Literally a bazillion. He was unimaginably rich, powerful and politically connected. And yet he was still eventually prosecuted for his crimes and he died in jail.
It’s never too late.
I’ve tried to stick to movies based on actual historical events and/or people (granted, The Westerner is a bit of a stretch), but I couldn’t resist including Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), which I watched on the night of the inauguration. It’s about a group of women who fight back against an entrenched gang of decrepit, inbred, lying, self-aggrandizing men in the ashes of a world long before destroyed by similar men. Spoiler: The women win.