This story is extremely disturbing as an exemplar of cancel culture. It’s the story about how a woman made a documentary about Muslims who, having been accused of terrorism, were sent from Guantanamo to a “terrorism rehab facility” in Saudi Arabia. The director of the film, originally called “Jihad Rehab” (now named “The UnRedacted”), found four of the “rehabilitated” willing to tell their stories on film, and, according to nearly all accounts, the film is good (it has a 75% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes). It was so well done that it was invited to the 2022 Sundance Festival. That was a great honor for the young director, Meg Smaker.
But then the problems surfaced, promoted by Muslims and the Woke on social media. There were two issues:
1.) Smaker is a white woman. Being white, argued the critics, how could she possibly have the understanding needed to make a film about Muslim men? (It took her 16 months of filming.) She was accused of being a “white savior”.
2.) The film is about Muslim terrorists. Muslims and especially many “progressives” on the Left shy away from that aspect of Islamism. Palestinian terrorism, for example, is nearly always minimized by MSM on the Left.
The result, documented in this longish New York Times piece (click on screenshot below) was that Smaker was canceled in a very real sense—deprived of her livelihood. Although Sundance did show her film, the backlash soon came from social media. The film’s executive director, who had initially called the film “freaking brilliant”, apologized in the most groveling and pathetic letter you can imagine. The letter of apology was written by Abigail Disney, a grandniece of Walt Disney, and you can read it here. It is pathetic, cringe-making, reprehensible, and disgusting. Smaker can’t get her film publicized or shown, and, after being demonized and called an “Islamophobe”, she’s nearly broke.
I recommend reading this article to understand how Progressive Authoritarianism is ruining our culture:
Indented text is from the NYT article.
Ms. Smaker was a 21-year-old firefighter in California when airplanes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. She heard firefighters cry for vengeance and wondered: How did this happen?
Looking for answers, she hitchhiked through Afghanistan and settled in the ancient city of Sana, Yemen, for half a decade, where she learned Arabic and taught firefighting. Then she obtained a master’s from Stanford University in filmmaking and turned to a place Yemeni friends had spoken of: the Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Center in Riyadh.
The Saudi monarchy brooks little dissent. This center tries to rehabilitate accused terrorists and spans an unlikely distance between prison and boutique hotel. It has a gym and pool and teachers who offer art therapy and lectures on Islam, Freud and the true meanings of “jihad,” which include personal struggle.
Hence the documentary’s original title, “Jihad Rehab,” which engendered much criticism, even from supporters, who saw it as too facile. “The film is very complex and the title is not,” said Ms. Ali, the Los Angeles Times critic.
To address such concerns, the director recently renamed the film “The UnRedacted.”
The United States sent 137 detainees from Guantánamo Bay to this center, which human rights groups cannot visit.
But reporters with The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and others have interviewed prisoners. Most stayed a few days.
Ms. Smaker would remain more than a year exploring what leads men to embrace groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Saudi officials let her speak to 150 detainees, most of whom waved her off. She found four men who would talk.
The film’s content: It’s mostly interviews, I hear, with no politicizing or twisting of the narrative. The article will tell you more about it, as will the critics’ reviews (link in next line).
Some reviews: (Read other critics’ reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.)
Film critics warned that conservatives might bridle at these human portraits, but reviews after the festival’s screening were strong.
. . .Lawrence Wright wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” and spent much time in Saudi Arabia. He saw the documentary.
“As a reporter, you acknowledge the constraints on prisoners, and Smaker could have acknowledged it with more emphasis,” he said. “But she was exploring a great mystery — understanding those who may have done something appalling — and this does not discredit that effort.”
To gain intimate access, he added, was a coup.
I loved Wright’s book, and I wonder why he wasn’t criticized about writing the history of the background to Al-Quaeda, beginning with the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shouldn’t Wright be criticized for portraying some Muslims as terrorists? How can a white man even tackle this subject? I needn’t respond: the answer lies in the nature of art itself.
One more, which you should consider when reading the critics below:
“What I admired about ‘Jihad Rehab’ is that it allowed a viewer to make their own decisions,” said Chris Metzler, who helps select films for San Francisco Documentary Festival. “I was not watching a piece of propaganda.”
. . . Lorraine Ali, a television critic for The Los Angeles Times who is Muslim, wrote that the film was “a humanizing journey through a complex emotional process of self-reckoning and accountability, and a look at the devastating fallout of flawed U.S. and Saudi policy.”
She is dismayed with Sundance.
There are a few negative reviews too, which you can see on the Rotten Tomatoes site, but the public criticism came largely from people who hadn’t even seen the movie. It was performative outrage:
But attacks would come from the left, not the right. Arab and Muslim filmmakers and their white supporters accused Ms. Smaker of Islamophobia and American propaganda. Some suggested her race was disqualifying, a white woman who presumed to tell the story of Arab men.
Sundance leaders reversed themselves and apologized.
. . . Many Arab and Muslim filmmakers — who like others in the industry struggle for money and recognition — denounced “Jihad Rehab” as offering an all too familiar take. They say Ms. Smaker is the latest white documentarian to tell the story of Muslims through a lens of the war on terror. These documentary makers, they say, take their white, Western gaze and claim to film victims with empathy.
Assia Boundaoui, a filmmaker, critiqued it for Documentary magazine.
“To see my language and the homelands of folks in my community used as backdrops for white savior tendencies is nauseating,” she wrote. “The talk is all empathy, but the energy is Indiana Jones.”
She called on festivals to allow Muslims to create “films that concern themselves not with war, but with life.”
Do you really care what color is Ms. Smaker’s epidermis given that the film portrays the four subjects talking and answering questions? And seriously, “white savior tendencies”? In what sense is Smaker a “savior”? (Some say that interviewing anybody in a prison invalidates the film.) The response is in the piece:
“An entirely white team behind a film about Yemeni and South Arabian men,” the filmmaker Violeta Ayala wrote in a tweet.
Ms. Smaker’s film had a Yemeni-American executive producer and a Saudi co-producer.
There’s more, but this will suffice (my emphasis)
More than 230 filmmakers signed a letter denouncing the documentary. A majority had not seen it. The letter noted that over 20 years, Sundance had programmed 76 films about Muslims and the Middle East, but only 35 percent of them had been directed by Muslim or Arab filmmakers.
A parallel: most of those who rioted when Salman Rusdie published The Satanic Verses hadn’t read the book, either. You don’t go rioting, cancelling, or killing over a book or movie or film that you haven’t read or seen. When people do so, it’s clear that the offense is performative. Just read the letter from Abigail Disney!
First, from Sundance:
Sundance officials backtracked. Tabitha Jackson, then the director of the festival, demanded to see consent forms from the detainees and Ms. Smaker’s plan to protect them once the film debuted, according to an email shown to The Times. Ms. Jackson also required an ethics review of the plans and gave Ms. Smaker four days to comply. Efforts to reach Ms. Jackson were unsuccessful.
The review concluded Ms. Smaker more than met standards of safety.
Ms. Smaker said a public relations firm recommended that she apologize. “What was I apologizing for?” she said. “For trusting my audience to make up their own mind?”
And then the inevitable:
Ms. Smaker’s film has become near untouchable, unable to reach audiences. Prominent festivals rescinded invitations, and critics in the documentary world took to social media and pressured investors, advisers and even her friends to withdraw names from the credits. She is close to broke.
“In my naïveté, I kept thinking people would get the anger out of their system and realize this film was not what they said,” Ms. Smaker said. “I’m trying to tell an authentic story that a lot of Americans might not have heard.”
. . .Ms. Disney, the former champion, wrote, “I failed, failed and absolutely failed to understand just how exhausted by and disgusted with the perpetual representation of Muslim men and women as terrorists or former terrorists or potential terrorists the Muslim people are.”
Her apology and that of Sundance shook the industry. The South by Southwest and San Francisco festivals rescinded invitations.
Jihad Turk, former imam of Los Angeles’s largest mosque, was baffled. In December, his friend Tim Disney — brother of Abigail — invited him to a screening.
“My first instinct,” he said, “was ‘Oh, not another film on jihad and Islam.’ Then I watched and it was introspective and intelligent. My hope is that there is a courageous outlet that is not intimidated by activists and their too narrow views.”
Ms. Smaker has maxed out credit cards and, at age 42, borrowed money from her parents. This is not the Sundance debut of her dreams. “I don’t have the money or influence to fight this out,” she said, running hands back through her hair. “I’m not sure I see a way out.”
Yes, she was canceled to the point where, despite her clear abilities and talents, she can’t find work. Canceled by people who hadn’t seen her film. Canceled by a public who, in their zeal to appear ideologically correct, hurled accusations of “Islamophobia” and “white saviorism” without good reasons. Canceled by a gutless Abigail Disney, whose letter I can’t even bear to quote.You must read it, however: it sounds like one of those signs that the Ideologically Impure had to wear around their necks during China’s Cultural Revolution while wearing paper dunce hats. I don’t know how to help Ms. Smaker, but I suppose I should start by seeing the movie. One could write to Sundance, but that would probably be useless.
Stuff like this pours into my email inbox every day—so much of it that I can write about only a small fraction of what people tell me. And much of the stuff involves the kind of performative activism evinced by Sundance and the critics of Ms. Smaker.
Yes, the termites have dined well—so well that they’ve undermined the foundations of art, of literature, and of scholarship itself. In the end, we’ll be done in by tribalism and cowardice—exactly what happened in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Like China, and with many parallels, we’re having our own Cultural Revolution.