Score: 3.5 stars (***1/2) out of 4 stars
If you’re looking to watch a documentary about politics — especially those containing left-leaning dogma — you won’t have to search very far and you’ll have well over 100 titles from which to choose (there will be even more if you include anti-war films). If you exclude documentaries which also contain religious content, the choice for right-leaning titles is in the single digits.
Featuring pundits/radio hosts/podcasters Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager, “No Safe Spaces” is the newest entry in this razor thin genre and is arguably the best of its kind ever produced. On the surface the film might appear to be tilting far to the right but for the entirety it addresses the single issue every American should find of interest: free speech and the slow eroding of the same.
Helmed by first time director Justin Folk and written by part-time Dinesh D’Souza collaborator John Sullivan, “No Free Spaces” clocks in at blisteringly efficient 95 minutes yet contains enough raw material to warrant a movie twice that running time. This is a film which all but invites multiple viewings and even then most audiences (including jaded critics and seasoned political junkies) will be unable to fully absorb all of it.
Born in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents, the 21-year-old Prager was studying at the University of Leeds in England when he was asked to travel to the Soviet Union to report on and interview Jews living in that repressed communist country. This was in 1969 while the Cold War still in high gear and freedom of the press (and by extension speech) was forbidden to the point of being illegal. Due to his success during this trip Prager has been a recognized expert in the field of Soviet Jewry and has spoken of it in over 60 countries. Despite being one of the most viewed people on YouTube.com many of Prager’s videos and podcasts started disappearing from the site in 2017.
Currently the most-listened-to podcaster in the U.S., the Los Angeles born gentile-turned-atheist Carolla grew up in a single parent household where his able-bodied mother reportedly preferred welfare over actual work. After knocking around in construction and auto repair, Carolla landed his first radio gig in 1995 as co-host of “Loveline” and has since hosted multiple TV and radio programs (“The Man Show” among them), does movie voice-over work and was also a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”
In the galaxy of Conservative pundits, Prager and Carolla are about as far to the center as it gets and each subscribes to what many would consider to be leftist talking points (legalized marijuana, restrictive gun laws). The point here is they come from wildly disparate backgrounds but are united in what they declare to be a “common sense” approach to all aspects of American life, yet are regularly chastised for their relatively middle-of-the-road positions from far extremes of both political aisles.
The choices of guest talking heads will surprise some as many of them are high profile pundits generally considered to be members of the far left. Among them are Bill Mahar, Cornell West, Van Jones, Dave Rubin, Alan Dershowitz, and Jordan Peterson, all of whom — without straying far from their respective liberal wheelhouses — call out extremist groups (Antifa mostly) for violently railing against speech they don’t like or find “offensive.” Perhaps the finest point is spoken by Rubin, who makes the clear distinction between “liberals” and “leftists.” It’s not all that different than statements made last week by former President Barack Obama who slammed “woke scolding” and “hash tag activism.”
Seeing as how the country will be voting in a general election less than a year from now, “No Safe Spaces” raises the issue that — while not being frequently discussed now — will become a huge albatross for the eventual Democrat Party presidential nominee. Having already alienated the bulk of their closer-to-the-center base in favor of placating the fringe of the party with talk of free everything and economic proposals straight out of the Soviet and Communist China playbooks, the as-of-yet-identified nominee is going to have to do a whole bunch of whiplash-inducing back-walking in order to appeal to the 40% or so of American independent voters which have the ultimate final word in selecting the next U.S. president.
At the heart of Folk and Sullivan’s narrative are events which have taken place at U.S. colleges and universities over the last few years, most of them spearheaded by students suffering from what has been coined “snowflake syndrome.” Protests (and sometimes massive property damage) at UC Berkeley, Cal State Northridge, Cornell, and especially at Evergreen State College in Washington State in May of 2017 are particularly illuminating. At one point, the filmmakers include archival footage from late ‘60s protests at Berkeley, events which marked a positive high point in the history of free speech activism.
Another passage has Prager talking about free speech and American Nazis. He makes the point that not agreeing with what someone has to say but allowing them the right to say it is what free speech is all about. It is reminiscent of what Hustler Magazine founder Larry Flynt said when his distasteful comments about Reverend Jerry Falwell were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1988 as being free speech which later appeared in a pivotal scene in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” from 1996. As Flynt, Woody Harrelson said “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, well then it'll protect all of you because I'm the worst.”
If we as a country begin silencing and censoring the rights of our fellow citizens either out of fear, disgust, or misplaced disagreement, we inch further to the kind of totalitarian state millions of men and women have died to protect for the entirety of this nation’s existence. We can’t ever let that happen.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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