Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words, the documentary about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is out. And it’s well worth seeing if you happen to live in a city where it’s playing.
What’s also worth seeing is the media’s reaction to Created Equal.
Media reviews, such as those in the New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter and the Washington Post, harp on it being a “conservative” documentary and attack the credibility of the producers because they’re conservatives.
Lefty documentaries, even when they’re funded by lefty non-profits, don’t receive the same treatment in reviews. Instead, these foundations and filmmakers are rarely even described in terms of their politics. Lefty privilege means that their politics are considered the norm, or the default, while those of conservatives or anyone else are a strange aberration that needs to be addressed.
That also taps into the Thomas question. How can a black man be a conservative? The only answers that the Left has come up with is that he’s either bad or stupid. This is the same answer that the Left comes up with for most conservatives. By no coincidence.
Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words exists out of a refusal to give in to those smears and insists on articulating Justice Thomas’ history and journey on his own terms.
And how the media has reacted to that has been its own litmus test.
The best test for that is to see what’s missing. That’s what Ann Hornaday, in WaPo’s second review of Created Equal, tries to do.
Thomas’s life story is riveting, from its roots in the Gullah culture of coastal Georgia to intergenerational psychodrama worthy of the ancient Greeks. Although I hadn’t changed my views of Thomas’s opinions by the time the movie ended, I felt I at least understood the man and his contradictions far better than when it began.
And that made encountering “Created Equal” on its own terms a worthwhile, even rewarding exercise. I thought back to “RBG,” the adoring documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg that became the hit of the summer in 2018, and 2014’s “Anita,” about Anita Hill’s career-long fight for gender equity. If I could accept those uncritical films of two women I already admired, why shouldn’t I be able to find value in a similarly one-sided portrait of someone with whom I vehemently disagree?…
Thus situated, I was able to watch with the appropriate filter, appreciating the fascinating personal and social history that weaves through Thomas’s biography while taking issue with his most frustrating, even infuriating pronouncements. It’s just this kind of compartmentalization — figuring out what you accept, reject, are surprised by or simply want to file away for further study — that defines critical thinking, a skill that has become virtually extinct in a hyper-polarized culture.
I’m sure that there will be a backlash, but Hornaday is asking the right questions.
Reviewers have no problem with documentaries like RBG that uncritically praise their culture heroes. They only find bias when it comes to conservative projects. And they refuse to engage with these projects, movies, books, arguments, at face value.
They preemptively reject them and then find reasons for their rejection.
Hornaday asks if cinema can be a depolarizing force. Created Equal offers that test for the other side.