A look at America's struggles with war, class, race and women's rights. based on Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States."

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A look at America's struggles with war, class, race and women's rights. based on Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States."

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13 December 2009 (USA)  »

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Howard Zinn: We didn't want to hear the words of the White House. We wanted to hear the words of those picketing the White House. Agitators. The anti-war protesters. The socialists and anarchists. In other words, the people who gave us whatever liberty and democracy we have in this country. What's common to all of them is the spirit of resistance to illegitimate authority. Democracy is in dissent. Democracy is in resistance. Democracy does not come from the top. It comes from the bottom.
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A unique and powerful theatrical piece captured on film.
1 July 2011 | by (US) – See all my reviews

A number of actors, musicians., etc. read writings and letters by the rebels of American history, like John Brown. Others read quotes showing some of the darker side of our history, like Abraham Lincoln's early determination NOT to free the slaves. And still others read words by unknown 'regular people' commenting on their times. Mixed with this are folk songs performed by Eddie Vedder, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and others.

Moving and informative, this is not, 'fair and balanced', nor does it pretend to be. The idea is to take a specific perspective on American history, from the time of the Declaration of Independence on, as a nation forged, and constantly changed by rabble rousers and revolutionaries, from Thomas Jefferson to Fredrick Douglas to Susan B. Anthony.

I was fascinated and disturbed to read the vitriol that this project has brought out from the right, and the sometimes mindless knee-jerk counter reactions from the left - quickly degenerating into the old 'you're a commie who hates America!' 'Oh yeah? Well you're a fascist who hates what America stands for!' child like spats.

Zinn and his approach is neither the first nor last word on American History, but it surely raises important questions, and teaches ideas that were certainly not part of my public school education. (e.g. the fascinating distinction between the Declaration of Independence as a more 'left wing' idealistic document ('All men are created equal') and the Constitution, which was more conservative, and enshrined ideas such as slavery as part of the basis of the country).

And while it's clear the film has a 'liberal' political point of view, to say - as many have - that a film full of the words of those who helped fight to change America for the better is somehow 'anti- American' astonishes me.

Since when is holding a different political viewpoint 'anti- American'? The greatness of this country has been it's willingness to change, grow, challenge itself, right its wrongs and attempt to be a nation that gives voice to people from countless backgrounds and points-of-view. This film reminds us of that. Not quite sure how that makes it 'anti-American'.

There is no contradiction between patriotism and a questioning mind that seeks to look honestly at our past, uncover historic wrongs, determine to right them and avoid them in future and celebrate those who fought for the freedom of their race, or sex, etc.

My only quibble with the film is that not all the readers bring the same level of passion, commitment (or, let's face it, acting talent) to their readings. But it was not enough of a problem to keep me from being constantly involved and moved.


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