Screen Gems

Think Trump botched the response to COVID-19? The truth is worse than you know.

Totally Under Control

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.

The Revelation: Totally Under Control

Directors Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger combined their talents to assemble this documentary film, conceived by Gibney at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to wonder, even after viewing the film, if they knew what they were getting themselves into.

For that matter, we also have to wonder if Gibney, Harutyunyan & Hillinger had anticipated that the response to COVID-19 from the White House would have been so bad. Totally Under Control provides a play-by-play in the unfolding of the pandemic, denoting each new development with the response by the Trump Administration. That includes the repeated denials by Trump and his deputies that the pandemic was “a hoax,” and “going away.” Typing out those words right now fills us with tense anger: more than 300,000 Americans have died from this disease. That Trump, enabled by Mitch McConnell (who has publicly lied and denied the existence of a pandemic response team established under Obama) and the Republican party was able to show such criminal dereliction of duty will forever rank as one of the lowest moments in American history. Given that American history already includes slavery, racism, the AIDS epidemic, subjugation of women and a host of other nasty moments, that says something.

But we digress. Totally Under Control goes a long way to clarifying some of the motives behind the Administration response (the words “free market” keep popping up like a rash), and underlines some of the jaw-dropping ironies as well, including Trump’s touring of an N-95 mask factory while not wearing a mask. Ditto the White House’s two pandemic response teams: one marginalized group led by an apathetic Mike Pence, and one headed by Jared Kushner who, the film suggests, may have purposely stymied the response to help certain business interests. Shocking, bewildering and infuriating, Totally Under Control is a film that encapsulates so much of 202. It’s also one of the best films of 2020.

Streams on Hulu.