We live in very tumultuous times. Racism is far from being new to America, but the racial divide of today seems wider than than it ever has been. Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation is not just another documentary dealing with racism. It attempts to explain the whys and hows while also focusing on how to enact change.
Healing From Hate follows members of Life After Hate. The group attempts to help those who want out of white supremacist groups. (These men and women are referred to as Formers.) The documentary also looks at what makes a person joins these extreme groups and the difficulties leaving that life behind.
Many documentaries about racism follow a similar path. Talking heads explain the sense of camaraderie brought by hate groups. There are conflicting interviews and powerful imagery. These moments are meant to touch a nerve with audiences and they do. Dealing with racism is an important issue, but few films handle it differently.
Healing From Hate initially looks like it is going to fall into that trap. The film stars with a series of interviews interspersed with racially charged footage and pictures. Unsurprisingly, it is impactful. It is impossible to see footage of a group of people attacking someone and not have some sort of reaction. This does not prevent the movie from seeming like it is going to be a sad case of “been there, done that”, however.
Thankfully, the movie does things differently. The opening is to set the stage for what is happening in America. As Healing From Hate progresses, it continues with interviews. There is never a sense of tedium. Instead, the documentary does an excellent job of painting a picture of just how tense race relations have become. This is more than just the silly “white is right” nonsense on message boards.
Through the interviews and stills, audiences see how racism has changed. The look has become more clean cut, the materials are easier to find (what once took years and months to obtain and read can now be found in days and weeks), and anonymity is no longer a problem. Healing From Hate is not just a series of tirades meant to stoke flames. It also attempts to explore why there seem to be more people in the “crusade” than ever before.
By looking at how simple it is for people to join hate groups, Healing From Hate looks at the individuals themselves. It is easy to dehumanize those who callously spew hate. After all, this is what they do on a regular basis. The members of Life After Hate are trying to do the opposite. It is not just a matter of trying to remember a racist is still a person. They are treat anyone who reaches out to them – whether they are looking for help or an argument – as another person.
This may be the best part of the documentary. It demonstrates the compassion in the members of Life After Hate. This is not a group whose primary goal is to change a person’s ideology. Instead, they want to help the Formers reacclimate back into society. They detail how these people have not just turned their back on the beliefs they once had. They have also severed times with friends, family, and everything they have known. It is a daring choice to not portray racists as monsters.
The sincerity of the group is also clearly shown. There are two Formers that are featured heavily in Healing From Hate. Many conversations are shown. The honesty of everyone involved is striking, but what really stands out is how the people from Life After Hate never tell the ex white supremacists about how they have made mistakes in their lives. Their focus is on healing and the questions center around what they will be doing and not what they have already done.
Another risk taken by director Peter Hutchinson is trying to rationalize why someone would choose a life of hate. Hutchinson never says it is okay or justified. Instead, he looks at the history of the country and the economic and social structures. Nothing said in Healing From Hate is a great revelation, but it does have people do something they would not normally do. They documentary has its audience look at life from the point of view of a racist.
Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation is not just another documentary that chronicles the history of racism in America. The narrative is more about how strained race relations are today and why that may be. More importantly, it is about helping those who once looked at life through a narrow lens. This is a powerful documentary that is willing to take risks that pay off.
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