and democracy are not the same things, but they tend to go together. Democracy advocates in Venezuela, Malaysia, Egypt,
Zimbabwe, and Ukraine understand only too well how their repressive regimes use
rigged elections to legitimize their rule.
Largely informed by the writings of Hoover Institute fellow Larry
Diamond and the expelled Prince Moulay Hicham of Morocco, Emmy-winning
filmmaker Ben Moses follows the struggle for free and fair democracies in all
five countries throughout A Whisper to a
opens this Friday in New York.
Whisper uses an animated
fable as a framing device that illustrates how the corrupting influence of
power makes today’s hero tomorrow’s despot.
Indeed, Hosni Mubarak might have been popular immediately after the
Sadat assassination and the freshly "re-elected" Hugo Chavez might have been legitimately elected
originally, but that was then. Up until the
Arab Spring, elections in Egypt never involved alternative candidates. They were simply an up or down referendum on
retaining Mubarak. Likewise, Chavez has
rigged the Venezuelan electoral system through the mother of all gerrymandering
and forcibly silenced the independent press.
nobody interviewed in Roar has paid a
higher price for their advocacy than former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister
Anwar Ibrahim, who was twice arrested and tried on trumped-up sodomy charges, a
transparent attempt to make him socially radioactive in a country where Islam
is the official state religion. Yet,
Malaysia seems to be one of the two countries that have made the most progress towards
democratic reform, along with Zimbabwe.
longtime dictator Robert Mugabe finally agreed to share power with reformist
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai it represented a dramatic victory for the
opposition. However, that victory came
at a high cost, after militias loyal to Mugabe systematically beat and killed
supporters of Tsvangirai’s party across the country. Mugabe’s cynical land reform proposals,
clearly intended to stoke racial resentment, also offer a textbook example of
how dictators resort to demagoguery to hold onto power.
frustrating is the case of Ukraine, where Viktor Yushchenko survived a
poisoning attempt to lead the Orange Revolution, temporarily sweeping the
neo-Soviet government out of office.
Unfortunately, divisions within the Orange coalition opened the door for
the old regime’s return in the next election, fair and square. As journalist turned opposition deputy Andriy
Shevchenko trenchantly observes, winning freedoms is an arduous process, but
surrendering them is quick and easy.
Roar obviously has an agenda, it is
one just about all people of good conscience will buy into. It features some valuable on-camera
interviews with prominent world figures, including Yushchenko, Tsvangirai, and
Ibrahim, as well as boots on the ground activists, such Roberto Patiño in
Venezuela. Even the animated
transitions, narrated by Alfred Molina, are rendered with more style than you
only problem with Roar is hardly
Moses’ fault. Each of these stories is
still very much developing. Despite
hopeful signs in Zimbabwe and Malaysia, Venezuela has only gotten worse, while
the Ukraine has taken one step forward and then one step back, whereas Egypt
remains an open question. As a result
the five strands do not parallel each other very well and none has a satisfying
sense of closure. Of course, Moses and
his colleagues would surely like nothing better than to produce happy epilogues
for each country, for reasons beyond the cinematic. As things stand, they interwove their stories
Informative and remarkably even-handed, A Whisper to a Roar is a very watchable status
report on the state of undemocratic democracy.
Recommended fairly highly for general news junkies and those particularly
interested in any of the five subject countries, Roar opens this Friday (10/12) in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Alfred Molina, Documentary, Hugo Chavez, Vikto Yushchenko