AFI Documentary Festival Review: White Noise

Year: 2020
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Daniel Lombroso
Stars: Lauren Southern, Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovitch

By Mique Watson

We first see an intimate gathering of diverse twentysomethings. The group consists of people with different ethnicities and sexualities–nothing too conspicuous. One of the hosts ushers in a tall, slender, and undeniably attractive young woman; she’s dressed up as a vampire. The group chats a bit, until the blonde woman says, “guess who I am, I’m the IRS”… immediately our eyebrows narrow. She then nonchalantly says a few choice words about how immigration is defiling the culture of a certain European country; and just like that, our eyebrows raise. She is Lauren Southern, and she is one of the most influential voices on the far-right.  

“White Noise” is, perhaps, the most shocking film of the year; the scariest part, however, is how unsurprising it is. Although it runs for just about 90 minutes, it grips you by the neck and confronts you. A few digressions aside, it succeeds in doing a solid job at making its case journalistically. Kudos to the Atlantic for this effort–this is both apparently their first documentary feature and the directorial debut of Daniel Lombroso.

Lombroso pulls the curtains back and shows you the men and women behind the alt-right. Not to be confused with traditional conservatives; the alt-right is a movement that is, in equal measure, dangerous and hypocritical. Traditional conservatives advocate for things like limited government, low taxes, the strengthening of faith and the family, and individualism… the alt-right shamelessly spits right in the face of all traditional conservatives and libertarians. 

Lombroso documents how the alt-right is literally everything it accuses the far-left of being. Right-wingers constantly accuse lefties of making messiahs out of their leaders, advocating collectivistic schools of thought, and being “Marxists commies”. Well, I’ve got news for you: the alt-right is literally all these things. Richard Spencer has made a messiah out of President Trump (“hail Trump!” he chants in one of his speeches–followed by a literal Nazi Salute). Racist players of the alt-right advocate for a whites-only ethno-state (if this isn’t collectivistic, I don’t know what is). Also, for all this talk of “Marxism” and “commies”, the alt-right is as “Marxist” as it gets: Karl Marx’s Bourgeois vs. Proletariat sentiments are all too reminiscent of the alt-right’s “Us vs. Them” dichotomy.  Lombroso captures this perfectly. 

“Lombroso pulls the curtains back and shows you the men and women behind the alt-right.”

Lombroso documents the lives of three of the alt-right’s notable figures–they are: Mike Cernovitch, a conspiracy theorist (see, PizzaGate) and former misogynistic sex blogger; Lauren Southern, an anti-feminist advocate of strict immigration laws and former YouTube star; and the disgusting dumpsterfire of a human being who makes the other two practically look like saints, Richard Spencer (see, Charlottesville riots)–he is a man who has all the charisma and appeal of a Hitler Youth. 

What I appreciate the most here is that Lomborso gives all three of these people their day in court; he treats them like humans. He doesn’t attempt to paint them like caricatures or devils. Instead, he observes them so keenly–we get the feeling like we’re flies on his shoulder. He doesn’t hide the fact that Mike Cernovitch constantly disavows the extremely racist and hateful rhetoric of Richard Spencer; he doesn’t shy away from showing the difficulties Lauren Southern faces as a woman in the alt-right (there’s a particularly disgusting scene where Gavin McInnes–a married man–preys on her, it made my jaw clench in anger). 

When I say that Lombroso goes deep into the lives of all three of these people; I mean he actually makes you feel as though you’re walking alongside them. We enter the house of Mike Cernovitch and meet his secular Iranian Wife, Shauna. Shauna denies much of the allegations against Mike (particularly those of him being a racist/white supremacist by virtue of her race and that of their own daughter). Shauna is, however, seemingly agitated by Mike’s involvement in politics and the stress it has placed on their family (Wikipedia tells me the couple is still together, I sincerely wish them the best). 

“White Noise” is, perhaps, the most shocking film of the year; the scariest part, however, is how unsurprising it is. Although it runs for just about 90 minutes, it grips you by the neck and confronts you.”

We follow Lauren Southern as she traverses Europe to film her documentary, “Borderless”. Mind you, not only did she produce and help film this documentary; she also presented it to the European Union…at age 23. At one point she says “there’s lots of showbiz in politics”; I happen to agree with that particular statement. We see her going into campsites inside Paris and interviewing migrants from Sierra Leone and Mali… she shares snacks and cigarettes with them as they regale her on how they each escaped their own personal hells. In spite of this, her strong positions on immigration remain firm. It’s frankly quite scary how she and her islamophobic cameraman seem so unmoved by their stories (at least based on the footage we see). 

Then there’s Richard Spencer–a man so disgusting and appalling, I don’t know how the brave souls behind this documentary could even stomach being around him for a single second. Hard as this documentary tries to give him room to speak, he is still devoid of any human warmth; it is downright horrifying how people actually like and support this guy. He is everything wrong with the alt-right: he’s xenophobic, islamophobic, racist, misogynistic, hateful, and inhuman. When asked about the violence he oh so clearly helped incite at Charlottesville, he flat-out denies it (the sound of that chair being hurled across the room was me, sorry!). His face and name will forever haunt me.

“What I appreciate the most here is that Lomborso gives all three of these people their day in court; he treats them like humans. He doesn’t attempt to paint them like caricatures or devils.”

Thankfully, however, “White Noise” doesn’t excuse the questionable behavior of Southern and Cernovitch in spite of Spencer. “White Noise”  is a deeply dispiriting film to watch, but it is necessary viewing nonetheless; mandatory viewing, if you may. 

 

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