Healing from Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Healing from Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation Movie Poster Image
Former alt-righters break good in compelling documentary.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 85 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Takes a hard look at tactics of neo-Nazi groups, what it might take to get people to leave these movements. Examples are provided of compassion, understanding, and tolerance; role of empathy and communication in helping people understand each other is explicitly underlined. Viewers will come away with message that it's worth the struggle to correct hateful actions and reach those who hate. Some interviewees cite the internet's role in vastly escalating spread of hateful information and allowing for anonymity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Reasons why people have joined neo-Nazi groups are powerfully illustrated in honest interviews. "I could project my pain and put it on other people so I didn't feel it," says one. "I felt powerful when I was powerless. I got attention when I felt invisible." Role of childhood trauma in adult hate and intolerance is underlined; many interviewees make connection between hate groups and parental and other abuse: "I was bulled all my life, so [hate groups were] intoxicating." Participants discuss how they found support, acceptance, comfort in these groups. Activists point out that they seek to provide the same support in anti-hate groups. Viewers hear about the dire deeds of ex-White supremacists, although they're not described graphically or exploitatively. 

Violence

Violence is more often referred to than shown -- in one chilling moment, a man describes childhood abuse by his mother that included rape and forced consumption of feces/urine -- but also many images of hate symbols like swastikas and Nazi eagles, Nazi salutes, and protestors with signs of the "Go back to Africa" variety. Images of protests with people shoving and punching each other, footage from violent mosh pits, images of White supremacy rallies, historical images of lynched Black people hanging from trees, dead. Movie talks extensively about mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012; filmmakers visit the temple, talk with surviving family members. References to and images of other mass shootings and terrorist events, including 9/11, Charleston church shooting, murder of Mulugeta Seraw in 1988 in Portland, etc. Life After Hate members briefly refer to their own crimes. 

Sex
Language

Cursing is infrequent but includes "f--k" and "s--t," as well as a few incidences of racist language, such as "kike." An interviewee refers to swastikas seemingly affectionately as "swazis."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Points out connection between feeling alone and isolated and turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. A participant has damaged hands from shooting up methamphetamine; he says that, in his experience, "White boys sell meth, that's why they call it Nazi dope."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Healing from Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation is a documentary about the rise of the alt-right movement and Life After Hate, a group that tries to help members of White supremacy groups exit them. Many crimes and terrorist acts connected to hate groups are described, some graphically. Disturbing images include a firefighter carrying a dead, bloody child and a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. There's also footage of protests, with people yelling, shoving, and hitting each other; a black-and-white photo of Black people hanging from trees in a KKK lynching; and news footage about mass shootings in Wisconsin, South Carolina, New Zealand, and more. Photography shows skinheads giving Nazi salutes, many racist tattoos, Confederate flags, swastika tattoos, and graffiti. Former hate group members are honest about their past violence and crimes but don't describe the actions in detail -- though viewers will hear a repeated story about a murderer who brags about killing an Ethiopian man, Mulugeta Seraw, with a baseball bat. They're clearly remorseful and are trying to do better. The film underlines the connection between childhood trauma and the appeal of hate groups, as well as the role of drugs and alcohol (a man whose hands are damaged from injecting methamphetamine is shown). Cursing isn't frequent but includes "f--k" and "s--t," as well as some racist language. Ultimately, messages of compassion and teamwork dominate: Life After Hate works earnestly and at length to understand those who hate, and its members hope to use empathy to convince White supremacists to adopt new views.

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What's the story?

HEALING FROM HATE: BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF A NATION is a documentary directed by Peter Hutchison that turns its lens squarely on the history of White supremacy in America. It investigates why the movement has gained fresh currency during the Trump administration, as well as how former White supremacists left the movement and now help others who want to do the same, in the form of groups like the centrally featured Life After Hate. With interviews with anti-hate leaders such as Frank Meeink, the former neo-Nazi whose life was one of the inspirations behind American History X, Jason Downard of the pro-tolerance group Freefromhate, sociologist and anti-hate pundit Dr. Michael Kimmel, and others, the film explores how and why the alt-right movement has sprung up -- and how former haters are helping others to leave it behind.

Is it any good?

Thoughtful and compelling, this documentary makes a powerful case for compassion and empathy as the best tools to lead members of hate groups away from their extremist ideologies. It's a message that's easy for the soft-hearted to swallow, but it doesn't make this film a comforting watch. The combination of Albian Gagica's spiky, swastika-laden graphics, Anthony Karen's photographs of angry young White men, and Malcolm Francis' strident electronica score gives viewers a sort of creeping unease that's exacerbated by shots of modern-day headlines and protests that explicitly underline the jump that hate has taken in America during the Trump administration.

Healing from Hate's exploration of mass shootings and murders in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, El Paso, and Christchurch, New Zealand, also serves to illustrate another serious point: The alt-right movement is one with a real body count. How did we get here? As Dr. Michael Kimmel, author of Healing from Hate: How Young Men Get Into -- and Out of -- Violent Extremism, points out, the internet has vastly escalated the spread of hateful information, while at the same time, its anonymity allows people to hatch their beliefs in safe secrecy. Then, there's the emotional pull: "They feel dispossessed, as if something's been taken from them," says Kimmel, while an ex-skinhead sums it up like this: "When you come up from nothing and you got nothing, a little bit of power feels so good." By illustrating how people can turn from hate to acceptance, Healing from Hate makes it clear that support, community, and tolerance have their own power, one that changes minds -- and lives. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history of hate groups in America and how they've changed over time. How are the KKK and alt-right groups similar? How are they different? Has the cycle of violence and reprisal, protests and counter-protests changed over time? If so, how? Why are groups that demonize some kind of "other" perpetually appealing to some? 

  • Talk about the references to and images of violence in Healing from Hate. How did that affect you? What's shown and not shown? How does it compare to the kind of violence you see in action movies? Which has more impact? Why?

  • Do you consider the interviewees in Healing from Hate role models? What motivates them? How do they demonstrate character strengths such as compassioncommunicationempathy, and teamwork?

  • What role does the internet play in enabling the alt-right, according to the film? How do people find hate online?

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