The seeds of Steven Spiel­berg’s pow­er­ful new project were sown by bul­lies, writes Holly Byrnes

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

(Hate) has never been over and the past has al­ways been re­peated

It’s the kind of au­di­ence warn­ing you’d ex­pect for a Quentin Tarantino epic or an Oliver Stone, big-screen, as­sault on the senses.

“This se­ries ex­plores the con­cept of hate and con­tains racist im­agery, hate speech and vi­o­lence. Viewer dis­cre­tion is ad­vised.”

While his de­trac­tors would say the dis­claimer should pre­cede all of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Twit­ter ram­blings, in fact, this con­fronting mes­sage opens a timely new doc­u­men­tary se­ries from none other than Steven Spiel­berg.

The Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor, who gave the world a his­tory les­son in Schindler’s List and Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan, has turned his con­sid­er­able gaze on the is­sue un­der­pin­ning all man­ner of cur­rent so­cial crises — from school­yard bul­ly­ing and sui­cide, to the rise of white na­tion­al­ism and ter­ror.

As the E.T. creator tells it, the land­mark, six-part tele­vi­sion se­ries for the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel be­gan as a thought bub­ble when the net­work’s boss came to visit his Los An­ge­les of­fice.

“I’d been deal­ing with the sub­ject of hate for years,” Spiel­berg says, “ever since the Shoah Foun­da­tion started col­lect­ing 52,000 tes­ti­monies of Holo­caust sur­vivors.”

Mak­ing it his “busi­ness” to learn why we turned on each other in such a heinous way dur­ing World War II, Spiel­berg had thought the way to in­struct new gen­er­a­tions was by giv­ing voice to its vic­tims turned teach­ers.

So when Dis­cov­ery’s David Zaslav asked Spiel­berg “if you could do any­thing on my chan­nels, what would that be?” the 72-year-old says the idea for Why We Hate — ti­tle and all — “came out of my mouth with­out any fore­thought”.

“I said, ‘I’d love to see a long se­ries, a crit­i­cal study of hate and I think we should call it, Why We Hate and that’s how the whole thing was born.”

Given carte blanche, Spiel­berg turned to doc­u­men­tary film­maker Alex Gib­ney who he re­gards as the “Martin Scors­ese of doc­u­men­taries’’.

When Spiel­berg called, Gib­ney lis­tened, leap­ing at the chance to helm such an im­por­tant project he sees as “the cen­tral is­sue of our times”.

While it is fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for Spiel­berg’s work, he ad­mits we haven’t yet learned the lessons of the past. “(Hate) has never been over and the past has al­ways been re­peated; and geno­cide upon geno­cide fol­lowed the lessons of the Holo­caust where we thought, ‘never again’.

He shakes his head: “Peo­ple to­day, through so­cial me­dia, are con­cerned about the now and on the mor­row, but not so much over what hap­pened even last week.”

Gib­ney agrees, ar­gu­ing the am­pli­fi­ca­tion of hate is made pos­si­ble by so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

“Hate has al­ways been with us and will be in some form but I think one of the things now is that ra­pid­ity as a re­sult of so­cial me­dia plat­forms.”

The in­ter­net can be a force for good, Gib­ney says, “but it’s also a force which en­cour­ages and pro­vokes our sense of trib­al­ism and it does so in the blink of an eye.”

Gib­ney, whose cred­its in­clude Go­ing Clear: Scien­tol­ogy And The Prison Of Be­lief, The In­ven­tor: Out For Blood In Sil­i­con Val­ley, and En­ron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, says hate and hos­til­ity “reaches in at an emo­tional level so that is one of the things that is dif­fer­ent to­day’’.

De­spite his fame and in­flu­ence in Hol­ly­wood and around the world, Spiel­berg re­counts his first ex­pe­ri­ence with hate as one of the few Jew­ish kids in his west coast el­e­men­tary school, tar­geted by “small pods of pop­u­lar kids, pick­ing on less pop­u­lar kids … in my case, I had zero pop­u­lar­ity grow­ing up’’.

“I didn’t think of it as hate, as much as I did as shame,” he says.

“I felt ashamed of a lot of things. They ac­tu­ally man­aged, with enough chid­ing and bul­ly­ing to make me ac­tu­ally feel ashamed of be­ing Jew­ish. I felt very much like an out­cast. As I got older I re­alised that bul­ly­ing is a very per­va­sive tool to make other peo­ple feel like they’re pow­er­ful. And so, I was on the re­ceiv­ing end of peo­ple’s power trips.”

It’s some­thing he had “no con­trol over, some­thing I was very proud of … to be Jew­ish’’.

As he points out in Schindler’s List — adapted from the book by Aus­tralian au­thor Thomas Ke­neally — when hate and evil is in­dus­tri­alised, as it was in the Holo­caust, it be­comes a “busi­ness of death” we must all fight to end.

“What this se­ries hopes to achieve is that any­thing in­volv­ing hate can never be nor­malised. There has to be a kind of ob­jec­tive over­view of hate and this doc­u­men­tary at­tempts to show that this must never be con­sid­ered a nor­mal thing.”

From the evo­lu­tion of the species, com­pet­ing for food, land and dom­i­nance, hu­man­ity has been pit­ted in the bat­tle of good ver­sus evil, Gib­ney says, but it’s al­ways be­gun with love.

“The whole idea of the ap­peal of ter­ror often doesn’t start out with hate. Like you’re re­cruit­ing for ISIS … they don’t say ‘come kill with us.’ The ap­peal is al­ways about love … about a sense of higher pur­pose; about a sense of be­long­ing to a group; this idea of trib­al­ism,” he adds.

“That al­lows peo­ple to do the most hor­ren­dous things, while imag­in­ing that they’re do­ing some­thing mag­nif­i­cent and good. And that’s the thing that’s the most dan­ger­ous.” WHY WE HATE, TONIGHT, 8.30PM, FOXTEL’S DIS­COV­ERY CHAN­NEL

A still from Why We Hate (above): di­rec­tor Steven Spiel­berg (far left) and doc­u­men­tary maker Alex Gib­ney.

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