Tribeca Film Festival 2022: ENDANGERED Paints A Disturbing Portrait Of State Of Journalism

Image via HBO

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, Endangered will be available on HBO Max on June 28.

“You can not have a healthy democracy unless you have freedom of the press,” it is stated at the beginning of Endangered, a new documentary from Jesus Camp directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady that looks at the state of journalism around the world today. Needless to say, that quote is setting us up for an examination of the actual state of journalism and its ability to perform its intended function of being an independent watchdog of the government, and the results are troubling to say the least.

Ewing and Grady follow four different journalists – one in Brazil, one in Mexico and two in the United States – as they work to report on government and police abuses of power in a climate that is becoming increasing hostile to them. Brazilian newspaper reporter Patricia Campos Mello finds herself made a target by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for her reporting on fraud committed by his election campaign. This has resulted in rape and death threats directed at her from Bolsonaro’s supporters while Bolsonaro publicly accuses her of trading sex for information. Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste’s work covering a Black Lives Matter march goes on to show that the Miami police lied about what happened there. Not so coincidentally, at future such rallies, photographers and other press suddenly find themselves being teargassed and targeted by the cops. In Mexico City, female newspaper photographer Sashenka Gutierrez finds herself especially vulnerable. Endangered tells us that at least 120 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000 with 90% of those murders remain unsolved. (The implication is that many of these are unsolved because of police involvement.) Meanwhile, Oliver Laughland travels across the United States for the Guardian and sees how politicians’ attacks on journalists have eroded the public’s trust in the profession.

As the film gets to know its four protagonists better, we see emerge several parallels, that each of their experiences are symptomatic of larger, diseased whole. Joe Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, notes that governmental attacks on journalists isn’t a new phenomenon, but “it is getting worse.” Mello notes that the biggest danger her reporter father faced was getting captured while covering the Gulf War, but now she faces attacks in her home country.

But for all the dangers that they may face, all four persevere on, cognizant of the dangers they face. “As journalists we can’t leave the truth out,” notes Juste. “We are moderators of fact, we are moderators of falsehoods. And this is why newspapers are so darn important.” Adds Gutirrez, “When I was young, my mother told me not to be afraid to tell the truth.” As the COVID pandemic enters into the picture, the reporters are not only risking their health to report on it, but the possible wrath of those who are trying to minimize the death tolls. In the US, police intimidation and outright violence against reporters rises in the wake of coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Due perhaps in part to changing economic conditions, the film notes that twenty-five percent of American newspapers have closed since 2004 and that now 65 million Americans live in “news deserts,” counties where there is at most one locally produced newspaper, sometimes none at all. During the production of the documentary, the Miami Herald is bought up by a hedge fund which promptly closed its local newsroom, leaving Juste to wonder if he will still have a job by the time this film comes out. Noting the importance of local newspapers in rooting out corruption in local and state government, an unnamed former employee of the recently shutdown Youngstown Vindicator asks “What happens to a country that does not have strong newspapers?”

Much of what Ewing and Grady report here sadly should come as no surprise. Attacks on the press in this country from those on the Right have been growing ever since the 1980s, though the cries of “Fake News” and worse rhetoric has exploded almost exponentially in the last decade or so. It is the weight of evidence that they present that first has us nodding our heads in agreement as to what is happening and at times sighing in frustration. But ultimately, the film does give us reasons to be hopeful. Mello is able to successfully sue Bolsonaro for slander over his “trading sex for information” allegations. “It’s a job that pays badly,” says Gutirrez. “It’s dangerous. But it’s also a beautiful job.” And it is that fortitude and determination from all four journalists profiled here that gives one hope.

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About Rich Drees 7221 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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