I would kill for the president.
The last four years has seen a rise in the deifying of populist political figures the world over, spawning cartoonish, life-or-death support for their respective political icons and a vitriolic hatred for those who oppose their icon’s vision. The above quote, a statement declaring an intent to kill in support of their president, might be expected from such political fanatics on their personal Parler accounts. You wouldn’t expect to hear it from a Filipino Senator on live television as part of his campaign drive. The kicker? The statement is completely true.
Maria Ressa, the subject of A Thousand Cuts, an infuriating, hard-hitting documentary spanning the last four years of Filipino politics, is a highly regarded journalist and CEO of Rappler, one of the Philippines’ biggest websites, and a previous winner of TIME’s Person of the Year. Her credentials speak for themselves, and come rubber stamped by some of the world’s leading figures in the on-going battle for human rights, including British barrister, Amal Clooney, and her husband, George, who make brief appearances in the documentary.
As all of the documentary’s key players are revealed one by one, starting with Ressa and ending with President Rodrigo Duterte via social media sensation and popstar Mocha Uson, A Thousand Cuts is much less a documentary and more of a genuine political thriller with plot twists, surprise deaths, and a commitment to creating some of the most evil villains we’ve seen in 2020 cinema.
Having very little (see: none at all) knowledge of the Filipono political climate, I was impressed at how efficiently and effectively director Ramona S. Diaz translates the severity of the situation the country finds itself in. The country’s war on drugs is the foundation of President Duterte’s reign and his no holds barred, iron fist rule over it has resulted in over 20,000 drug related deaths by law enforcement over the last four years of his presidency. Under his control is Senator Bato Dela Rosa, the guilty party for the quote that opened this review, and when you realise Dela Rosa is one of the many minions enacting his rule, you begin to see the dangerous direction in which the country is heading. As an outspoken critic of the president, Maria Ressa becomes the target for much of Duterte and his supporters’ ire, which largely summarises the documentary’s entire second half as Ressa becomes Public Enemy #1.
Ressa’s and her website’s coverage of President Duterte has overlapped with likely the phrase of the last four years of political discourse – Fake News. There’s no doubt He Who Must Not Be Named was an inspiring figure for the man with the nickname “Duterte Harry,” and his assault on the media and his critics throughout A Thousand Cuts is a vivid feeling of déjà vu for anyone who has spent more than 30 seconds watching the news since 2016.
In one of the documentaries most informative sequences, Ressa explains in matter-of-fact terms how Fake News and the spread of disinformation has become such a viral problem in the last four years. Put simply, “lies released with anger and hate spread the fastest.” When you put it like that, it’s no wonder that we’ve seen the meteoric rises we have in recent history. It’s the same sentiment as back in 1930s Europe, but the lies are recycled far quicker with the aid of social media. It’s quite a scary sequence for anyone politically motivated, and you despair for people like Ressa trying to sift through the lies and the hate to inform the masses of the truth. Harder still when the president of country Ressa so dearly loves sends threats against her job for criticising the government. It’s truly harrowing what Ressa faces every day in her line of work, so much so that the joy of simply not being arrested when she lands at Manila airport is far more thrilling than it really ought to be.
A Thousand Cuts is essential viewing for anyone with their fingers on any political pulse as it places you right in the heart of a nation still under fascist rule. You will come to hate The Philippines’ political figures with the same vitriol that you surely harbour for their influential American counterparts. Maria Ressa comes across terrifically, as someone who triumphs against diversity and smiles through endless death and rape threats, championing the simple act of doing the right thing.
Ressa manages to summarise the last four years in a beautifully eloquent interview towards the end of the documentary, and a key phrase will resonate with anyone all over the world:
“What happens in America happens in the rest of the world…we are at this existential moment where if nothing significant is done, journalism and democracy as we know it is dead.”
Maria Ressa is an inspiration, and the documentary’s one-two gut punch of an ending only serves as a warning that Ressa and her team of Rappler reporters cannot do battle alone. A Thousand Cuts is a call to arms for everyone to stand up for what is right, say no to Fake News, and combat fascism with love and hope. As Ressa herself says in the film’s final moments, “we still think there is hope, don’t we?”
A Thousand Cuts is available in Virtual Cinemas.