A Thousand Cuts

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
A Thousand Cuts Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking docu about freedom of the press.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 110 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Explains why freedom of press is necessary and important for democracy, shows how suppression of an independent, free press weakens society and leads to propaganda. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maria Ressa and fellow journalists exemplify how being a journalist requires courage, curiosity, perseverance, communication. The journalists stand up for truth even when threatened, ridiculed, intimidated; they're dedicated to their professions even in face of government reprisals, intimidation, lawsuits. President Duterte has a lot of populist support but is an authoritarian whose policies have been condemned around the world. When his administration is criticized in the Philippines, he tries to silence or discredit the authors using term "fake news."

Violence

Images (photos and video footage) of dead people on the streets; discussions of what it's like to see so many dead, to hear relatives wailing in sorrow, to witness state-sponsored, extra-judicial murder. Various journalists cry while recounting their stories covering Duterte's so-called war on drugs, which has left thousands dead. Overt threats from government officials: President Duterte literally says in speeches: "You do drugs, and I'm going to kill you" or "Do not do drugs, because I will kill you." A general-turned-senator tells imprisoned men "Keep on using, and I have my own way to stop you. I can make you stop." Social media messages encourage rape, torture, murder of journalists.

Sex

Duterte makes suggestive comments in speeches about his "manhood" being erect or limp, depending on situation/circumstance. A social media influencer who's also a dancer wears revealing clothes and dances suggestively.

Language

Strong language spoken (including by the president) or written in social media posts includes "f--k," "f--ker," "motherf----r," "s--t," "bitch," "bulls--t," "son of a bitch," etc.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion of drug use, particularly meth.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Thousand Cuts is a documentary about how the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has waged a war of disinformation and lawsuits against media outlets that are critical of his administration. Directed by Filipino American filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz, the documentary explores, via interviews and archival footage, how quickly and easily Duterte convinced his followers that the media is fake, unpatriotic, and actively trying to destroy him -- and, by extension, the Philippines. The language is occasionally strong in English, subtitled Tagalog, and social media posts, including "f--k," "bitch," "s--t," etc. Violence includes images of people murdered in the streets, as well as footage of the president and his followers threatening to kill drug users and violently attack prominent members of the press corps. Through it all, the featured journalists, led by Maria Ressa, exemplify how being a journalist requires courage, curiosity, perseverance, and communication. And the movie ultimately shows how the suppression of an independent, free press weakens society and leads to propaganda. 

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What's the story?

A THOUSAND CUTS chronicles the way that the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte has waged a war of disinformation and legal assaults against the media, particularly those outlets critical of his increasingly authoritarian administration. Centered in his crosshairs is the online outlet Rappler and its co-founder/CEO, Maria Ressa. Duterte successfully has Ressa arrested multiple times and has her tried for cyberlibel in an effort to silence critical media. But Ressa, who was one of Time magazine's Persons of the Year in 2018, refuses to be silent and continues to cover Duterte's "slide into authoritarianism." The film interviews Ressa and prominent members of her staff, many of whom have had to face threats and had their access to the president and his top officials revoked. The movie also features opposition candidates and two of Duterte's biggest followers, including one of the country's most popular social media influencers and a general turned politician.

Is it any good?

This powerful, educational documentary exposes the challenges of being a journalist in an increasingly anti-press democracy in which leadership labels the entire media industry fake. What happens in the Philippines matters to the rest of the world, Ressa says in one interview. What Duterte is doing -- calling out the media; engaging paid trolls; pressuring his legal branch to investigate, arrest, and sue journalists; encouraging and retweeting people who ridicule and even threaten prominent journalists -- is more relevant than ever, and definitely not just in the global South or developing countries' democracies. There's a slippery slope, Ressa and the Rappler journalists explain, between suppressing the media and propagandist behavior.

Director Ramona S. Diaz does a fine job of interviewing the journalists involved and also pro-Duterte officials, like influencer-turned-government secretary Mocha Uson and General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, who runs for office after leading a campaign to kill drug addicts on Duterte's behalf. Despite being on the authoritarian president's side, both are humanized, with their own reasons for being pro-regime. Uson tearfully explains a tragedy in her background that makes her pro-government. Meanwhile, Dela Rosa is a candidate who says he would happily kill for his president, but he's also shown singing karaoke at a rally, playing and dancing with his followers -- even kidding around with criminals to whom he says he's giving a final chance to stop using drugs (the "or else" being that he'll have them executed in the streets). This isn't a particularly easy documentary to watch, but it's necessary, particularly when there are obvious parallels between the Philippines and the United States.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about A Thousand Cuts' message about the fragility of press freedom and the danger of a government that tries to silence the media. What does "freedom of the press" mean?

  • Talk about the violence in the documentary. Is it necessary to the story? Why is state-sponsored violence a sign of authoritarian government?

  • Do you think Maria Ressa and other journalists working in countries that are hostile to the media are role models? Which character strengths does Maria exemplify? Why are courage, curiosity, and perseverance important?

  • Why is it important to know what's going on around the world? How does the relationship between the president and the media in the Philippines compare to that relationship in the United States? In other countries?

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