It feels like a different world. When the US Presidential election was being called the whole SBS office stood by transfixed by the count, as we had been eight years earlier for the election of Obama. Not only has the result recast global politics but both pundits and punters have scrambled to reassess the country through the prism of race and class.
Without any foresight, the scheduling of the documentary series OJ Simpson: Made in America (Monday 21/11 8:30pm) feels particularly timely. Through the words of those closest to him, the program paints a portrait of Simpson prizing wealth and celebrity above all else, qualities he appears to share with Donald J Trump. Unlike the President-elect, Simpson’s upbringing in the San Francisco projects was far from privileged. Yet through his sporting achievements he sought to reinvent himself as a symbol of success, turning his back on the African-American identity by which he refused to be defined. Only when he faced conviction for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman did the race card come back into play.
During the election campaign the Republican nominee frequently proclaimed the dangers of admitting Syrian refugees into the US. The documentary series Exodus: Our Journey to Europe (Tuesday 22/11 9:30pm) finds new ways to tell of the dangers the refugees themselves face. To avoid the issues of attaching film crews to the refugees’ hazardous escapes the filmmakers provided them with phone cameras. The footage they captured allows much greater intimacy than anything appearing on the nightly news. Interviews bring home the human cost of these journeys.
For an insight into the region from which they are fleeing, Among the Believers (Sunday 27/11 11:45pm) documents ISIS and Taliban-supporting cleric Abdul Aziz who leads the Red Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan (the documentary has been banned in that country but played at film festivals internationally). Calling for the introduction of Sharia law in Pakistan, Aziz recruits students from the impoverished countryside, providing them with an education at the price of indoctrination. The issues the film presents are complex and chilling.
In the 1980s the Red Mosque was funded by the US to train Mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan as we see in the film Charlie Wilson’s War (Friday 25/11 8:30pm). Written by Aaron Sorkin and the last film to be directed by the late great Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks plays the eponymous and real-life US Congressman who became involved in the covert Cold War operation. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams and many others superbly round out the supporting cast. We shall wait to see what path in the region President Trump will choose.
Ben Nguyen is Channel Manager of SBS TV.