Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Documentary on hate groups treads fine line between reporting and giving platform, with mixed results

Emily Quigley,

There’s something to be said for giving a platform to terrible people and hateful organizations so that the world can witness their awfulness first hand. And while it is important to spread awareness on the dangers of these individuals and organizations, how to responsibly go about that is the question.

“Alt-Right: Age of Rage” documents the growth and spread of racist white nationalist groups in America in recent years. Following leaders like Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor, the film displays their actions and ideologies while also showing the opposing antifa movement — the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events — and prominent antifa activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins.

The documentary shows tragedies at the hands of hate groups historically and currently, so it’s clear the narrative isn’t working to sympathize with such groups or make the claim that what they are doing is noble. But in giving them such a platform, the film at times portrays the groups as if they are part of a legitimate, valid movement.

A portion of the country may follow and believe in what such groups are saying and act upon it, but what those groups stand for is not based on anything other than hate and invalid reasoning. No matter how much Spencer tries to speak like an academic or Taylor attempts to indoctrinate the masses with his books, at the end of the day, they have no real grounds. And although the film does emphasize this aspect of their movement, with its expert interviewee to counteract more ridiculous statements, it’s hard to forget that a lot of people listen to these statements and believe them wholeheartedly.

RELATED: 10 documentaries to watch for at South by Southwest 2018

What the film does do well, though, is show the true horrors of the groups’ actions and their lack of remorse afterward. After last year’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., the documentary shows Spencer mentioning his sadness over counter-protester Heather Heyer’s death, but clearly his eagerness to move forward and his ultimate shrugging off of the situation trump any sadness he claims to feel. Weeks later, the group shows back up in the same spot to protest.

It’s clear the purpose of this documentary was to provide awareness, and some will debate whether and how best to give both sides equal coverage. Giving a mic to a white supremacist doesn’t make them any more official or valid, but giving them their own side of the story does to an extent. Such criticism is not exclusive to this film but rather to any piece that attempts to document these types of groups. It’s a fine line to tread. Does giving them a platform glamorize or humiliate them? There is no consensus on the answer to this question. This documentary, therefore, stands as a representation of not only one way to make the world aware of such groups but also how the country is currently grappling with understanding them in relation to everything else.

Lamont Jenkins says at the end of the film that he doesn’t believe the country is actually divided because the majority are against this movement; there is one side with some stragglers lingering on the outskirts. However, the film does show the rapid growth of the movement, which prompts audiences to consider how this could one day fully morph into its own side.

“Alt-Right: Age of Rage” had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 9; there are no more screenings. Grade: C+