Free speech is an essential component of democracy. However, it is not ubiquitous – not even in modern democratic societies. These freedom of speech movies detail the ongoing struggle to protect it.
Our favorite free speech movies
WikiLeaks undoubtedly changed the current media landscape and continues to challenge those in power. This docu-drama depicts its evolution, but it is also not without its own controversies. WikiLeaks criticized it by saying that much of the information is incorrect. So, watch this film with a critical eye to see how certain biases can shape public opinion.
Mediastan was essentially WikiLeaks’ answer to the Fifth Estate film. Written by Julian Assange and Katerina Suvorova, the film shows how mainstream media is unwilling to speak objectively due to various external pressures.
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past…” – George Orwell, 1984.
This is the film adaptation of 1984, the classic dystopian political science fiction novel by George Orwell. We strongly recommend reading the book first. It illustrates the horrors of secret surveillance, deception, and manipulation by totalitarian or authoritarian governments. Even though the film depicts the horror of Soviet totalitarianism very accurately, it still remains a very topical piece today. Most of the world's population still lives under non-democratic regimes with acute surveillance and suppression of personal freedom. Moreover, even democratic countries constantly monitor us and occasionally violate our privacy.
Shouting Fire, a documentary, deals with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It shows how the protection and exercise of free speech has changed and how global politics influences these trends. The film analyzes various cases ranging from the Pentagon Papers case to Ward Churchill's controversial article about 9/11, which show how the free speech landscape in the US has changed. It illustrates how vulnerable Americans’ first amendment rights are.
When someone wants to silence you, you can find unconventional methods to fight back. This is one of the basic premises of The F Word. Joe Pace, a radio DJ whose program was shut down, sets off on a one-man march to prove his right to broadcast. The film is also notable for its experimental nature, combining documentary and fiction styles with a unique narrative flow.
Featuring a stunning cast and brilliant acting, The Post movie depicts journalists’ attempts to publish the Pentagon Papers detailing US’s political and military involvement in Vietnam. Moreover, the film illustrates Katharine Graham’s struggles as the first female publisher in a male-dominated environment. The movie is set in the pre-internet early 70’s, offering a fascinating insight into whistleblowing and free speech efforts before the Internet Age. In a way, it shows an early precursor of WikiLeaks.
No Safe Spaces is the brainchild of two authors standing on the different sides of the political spectrum – conservative radio host Dennis Prager and liberal comic and media personality Adam Carolla. Thus, no wonder that it also features a wide range of participants of diverse cultural and political backgrounds. The No Safe Spaces documentary deals with safe spaces in American universities, where marginalized individuals can safely share their experiences. It stresses the importance of free speech and the presence of different opinions on campuses. At the same time, it also criticises the favouring of one opinion versus the other. While you may not necessarily agree with the viewpoints presented in this film, it is worth watching to familiarize yourself with the complexity of the issue and the different views on it.
Razor’s Edge shows what happens when expressing your opinion online can be a matter of life and death. It deals with internet freedom in Bangladesh, where radical Islamist groups persecute and eventually kill secular bloggers. In 2013, extremists published a deathlist including 94 bloggers. 5 of them were killed, while others were attacked or escaped the country. The government refused to act. Watching this documentary makes us realise how precious the freedom of speech is and how privacy can help protect it.
A shorter version of the film is available on YouTube. The director did not make the full 65-minute version public, because it may still be dangerous to some of the people involved, who are still being targeted by killers.
Forbidden Voices is another documentary on activist blogging and the internet as a tool to spread political and social messages and initiate changes. It follows three female bloggers from China, Cuba and Iran – all countries known for undemocratic regimes that suppress speech.
Governments treat the three protagonists as dissidents due to their courageous activism and constant fight for freedom. They are constantly monitored, censored and blocked while facing harsh repressions. This disturbing documentary shows the ugliness of the apparatuses of repression and inspires us to fight them.
The Burma VJ documentary displays the work of undercover video journalists who secretly filmed the Burmese anti-military Saffron Revolution. The peaceful protests were led by students, political activists, Buddhist monks and other citizens. The regime met the protests with brutal opposition – thousands of people were arrested or sentenced and dozens of casualties were involved.
The documentary shows how the burmese people exercised their democratic voices and how media channels spread their messages.
We Are Legion documents the world of hacktivist group The Anonymous. It portrays the hacktivists as protectors of free speech and reveals how they can influence various social and geo-political events. It also demonstrates how much someone can change from behind a computer screen.
This is the biopic of Hustler magazine creator Larry Flynt, and it details his fight against the heavy censorship he had to endure during his career as a publisher of adult content.
The focus of this controversial film is on defending the first amendment rights enshrined in the American constitution and the right to freedom of expression as Flynt fights for the right to publish sleazy magazines. Ironically, the poster of the film was also censored.
Critically acclaimed Citizenfour follows the life of famous hacker and whistleblower Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal. It can be a good companion to The Fifth Estate mentioned above, as it portrays the internet as a tool to disclose data hidden from the public that can change the course of history. The film received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Is our list missing something? Let us know what censorship and/or surveillance films inspire you In the comments below.
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