For those on the right side of the political spectrum, there has been one word used to demonize people on the left in recent years: socialist.
Politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York are the two most prominent members of the Democratic Socialists of America, a group which, among other things, is working to push the Democratic Party further to the left to secure things like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and more.
The new documentary The Big Scary “S” Word, directed by Yael Bridge, attempts to explain and defuse socialism by demonstrating that it has long had a home in the United States. Capitalism, as the film shows, has been held up as the ideal for the economic and political well-being for American citizens since the country’s founding. But instead of being a system that allows everyone to flourish, it is one where the money continually flows to the top, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and greed.
Socialism, its proponents and the film argue, can break that cycle, giving power to all of the people instead of just those at the very top.
To illustrate that point and the history of socialism, Bridge includes interviews with a litany of economic and political science professors from different universities. Each of them dutifully explain the benefits of socialism and provide plenty of examples of socialists throughout America’s history, including Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The interviews with the professors are, too put it mildly, very dry, giving the feel of a college lecture.
Bridge tries to put a personal face on the issue by following a few people, including Oklahoma teacher Stephanie Price, who warms to the idea of socialism thanks to a teacher strike in the state in 2018; and Virginia state delegate Lee Carter, who became the lone Democratic Socialist in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2018. While they provide a bit of balance to the droning of the professors, neither of their stories is overly compelling, at least in the context of promoting socialism.
Two people who aren’t interviewed are the ones most viewers probably want to hear from most, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Both of them appear in the film, but only in news footage or in a speech Sanders gives in support of Carter’s re-election bid. If Bridge had been able to actually sit down with Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez, it would have livened up the film appreciably.
A film like The Big Scary “S” Word needs to be one that not only fires up people who are already inclined to believe its message, but convincing enough to persuade those who aren’t. Unfortunately, the film fails on both ends, winding up in a place where the only ones who will likely care about it are those who were personally involved in its making.
The Big Scary "S" Word is available via video on demand platforms.