Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Timely: America after 9/11
Thursday marked one year since the January 6 Capitol Insurrection, and the United States–and indeed, the world–continues to grapple with the meaning and long-term effects of seeing the world’s greatest democracy shaken to its core. As Fox News, politicians and right-wing blowhards continue to downplay, even erase, the dangers of that day, one question keeps coming to mind…
How did it come to this?
The most convincing answer we’ve heard so far, dear reader, comes from director Michael Kirk in his documentary film America After 9/11. The movie, produced for the PBS series Frontline, was conceived as a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Far from a retread of the events on and around that notorious day, America After 9/11 makes the frightening case that the events of September 11, 2001 started the nation down a path that lead directly to January 6, 2021.
It breaks down like this: the terrorist attacks of that fateful day created a climate of panic and fear among the American public. They also rattled George W. Bush–a man untutored and woefully unprepared for his situation–to his core. Bush’s “good vs. evil” mentality infected the American consciousness. Right-wing commentators began to scream that all terrorists are Muslims (spoiler alert: they’re not). Though the film doesn’t make a dramatic point about it, Bush also created a climate of “us vs. them” homophobia to win reelection by calling for a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and removing LGBTQ people from key government positions. That only deepened these newfound divides.
By the time Barack Obama—a man with a Muslim father—arrived on the scene in 2008, Republican anti-Islamic sentiment had transmuted into suspicion of African-Americans as secret Muslim agents. Obama also pledged to be a transformative president, overhauling healthcare and ringing in a new era of LGBTQ equality. These social changes coupled with increased “anti-terrorist” police militarization. Thus did the United States create an explosive mixture of paranoia, rage, “othering,” and disastrous foreign wars. Donald Trump managed to exploit that division and fear in 2016 by equating ISIS with #BlackLivesMatter and the “Radical Left (which, of course, includes all things LGBTQ),” using the military against peaceful protesters and encouraging insurrection on January 6.
Sound plausible yet? Kirk’s film presents a blow-by-blow account of the major political and social developments that propelled American Democracy to such a precarious place. It also draws subtle lines between the post-9/11 mindset and a number of other societal ills such as gun violence, misinformation, and deteriorating mental health. America After 9/11 doesn’t fall into the trap of presenting solutions to our nation’s current political mess–how could any movie ever do that? It does, however, suggest that to fully address political divisions, loss of faith in American institutions and social unrest, the country must understand how it got to this dire point in the first place.
We have to agree. Few movies offer such clarity into complicated issues or historical events. Since America After 9/11 streams free, we suggest watching, digesting its thesis, and sharing it with friends across the political spectrum. As the past comes into focus, perhaps we can find solutions for the future. 20 years after September 11, 2001 and one year after January 6, 2021, it’s the least we can do to try.
Streams on YouTube & PBS.com.
Note: Portions of this article appeared in previous stories on Queerty.