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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: A Thousand Cuts (2020)

Modern Populism has given rise to some of the most dangerous politicians in the current political climate. These individuals sought to completely subvert democratic systems that are put in place to allow people to practice democracy - which also entails fairly choosing leaders who could challenge established democratic institutions (not destroying them) in putting the needs of the people first. Liberal democracy, in particular, puts emphasis on the rule of law as well as the protection of minority rights. Notable modern populist presidents such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Putin, Modi, and in this film's case, Duterte, are prime examples of leaders claiming to represent the will and rights of the common man, despite showing on numerous occasions to vilify these institutions put in place to keep a democratic society as stable and healthy as possible. Their common goal is also to make media enemy number one.

This brings us to A Thousand Cuts, an eye-opening documentary about journalist Maria Ressa and her team at Rappler's battle with the tough guy president of the Philippines in Rodrigo Duterte. His iron-fisted, no-nonsense war on drugs in the Philippines has been criticized as being a war on the poor, with low-level dealers, addicts, suspected addicts and whoever is in the wrong place at the wrong time to meet their end at the hands of excessive police force and vigilantes. Humans rights groups like Amnesty International have called this proclaimed war on drugs to actually being a large scale murdering enterprise with even those being merely suspected of being drug users being the victims of murder by the police and vigilantes. The death numbers, as estimated by the country's Commission on Human Rights in 2018, could be as high as 27 000, so the numbers since then could be even higher as of 2020. Like all of the modern populists as mentioned above, when Duterte is faced with any criticism, he turns on the media, vilifying them as the source of all their country's problems. The "fake news" rally cry is heard all over in these nations, with the lives of journalists becoming more and more expendable at the hands of the ruling party.

Thankfully, the reliable journalists at Rappler and other outlets in the Philippines refuse to lay down and let democracy erode away, despite Duterte determined to make these democratically elected institutions bend to his will. Maria Ressa certainly isn't a nobody, in 2018, Time magazine named a group of journalists as person of the year with Maria Ressa being one of them for her outstanding and brave work in criticizing Duterte's regime. Throughout the film we see her traveling all over the world, spreading the importance of freedom of the press, all while having the government in her country plot and scheme to break her and Rappler down. Arrests, baseless indictments, and more attacks on their character become the regular weapons of choice in silencing them. The deeper we go into the film, the scarier it gets seeing these individuals braving the storms in trying to just expose the lies and cruelty inflicted by a hateful, fearful and openly violent government. Showing journalists on the frontlines of a needlessly violent class war also show how the system is slowly chipping away at them, with them fearing more and more for their lives as well as the individuals they are covering. We often see on our TVs how big and scary America is, and rightfully so, but we don't often get to see how these other, poorer countries are being exploited by tyrannical leaders who only see violence as a means to an end.

A Thousand Cuts also manages to give insight into the senatorial elections campaign following a notable Duterte ally and an opposing party senatorial candidate. We follow Duterte's right-hand man in their war on drugs: Bato Dela Rosa, the Director General Bureau of Corrections as he starts his campaign to become a senator. It's frightening seeing such individuals making successful headway in getting one step closer to eroding an already brittle democracy. There is hope though, as we also follow an opposing party senatorial candidate in the form of Samira Gutoc, whose determination to truly represent the needs of the people without wanting to or needing to strike down any pillars of democracy. Combining these campaign trails and Duterte's simultaneous war on drugs as well as the press, we get to see a correlation between all of them and the effect social media has on it all. An army of social media trolls are completely integral to his grip of spreading rampant misinformation, with sobering details and research shown in the film about how easily and quickly fake news spreads from as little as 20-odd tiny accounts.

As doomed as we all appear to be, especially in the Philippines' case in this film, we still get to see the hard, tireless and completely fearless work exhibited by not only the journalists but hopeful politicians in their bid to preserve freedom and equality in their country. A Thousand Cuts appears to be grim in its subject matter, but Maria Ressa and Rappler are beacons of light in a constantly shit world.

If you have a fancy VPN, you can stream the entire documentary from PBS via their YouTube over here...

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