Lazy pro-activist doc We Are the Giant tries so hard to get viewers to cheer on the recent Arab Spring uprising that it distressingly ignores the individual factors that led Libyans, Syrians, and Bahrainis into the streets in the first place.
Director Greg Barker presents three real-life protesters as the latest in a long line of historical heroes by sandwiching their stories between haphazardly juxtaposed inspirational quotes, from Thomas Jefferson to Vladimir Lenin(!), and photographs of protests around the world, including Tiananmen Square and the Sharpesville massacre.
That broad scope makes We Are the Giant‘s freedom fighters look like well-meaning rebels without a specific cause. Barker’s focus on sweeping, big-picture gestures wrongly assumes that his subjects’ accomplishments speak for themselves. He confirms Libyan American Osama’s commendation of Osama’s rebellious son Muhannad — “[he’s become] an example to others” — by selectively quoting a New Yorker profile of Muhannad.
But Barker doesn’t ask Osama what about Muhannad’s protests inspired him to join him in protest. Instead, Barker crassly highlights a quote from the Gettysburg Address — “we here resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain” — before showing Osama tearfully mourning Muhannad’s death. Barker’s tactlessness wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t too high on his own patchwork rhetoric to ask his subjects what specifically motivates them.
We learn that Bahraini political prisoner Zainab al-Khawaja is inspired by the civil rights movement and Alex Haley’s Roots, but never really find out what Khawaja means when she says, “Sometimes there are things that you need to do.” If you try to follow We Are the Giant‘s disjointed line of argument, you’ll never know what those “things” are.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 10, 2014