Burnt out educators, activists fighting for minimum wage in the restaurant industry, unemployed factory workers voting against their own best interests, single parents holding down four jobs to get by — Jennifer Siebel Newsom focuses on these people and more to expose “The Great American Lie” in her new documentary. The film looks at the wide — and growing — economic divide in the United States, and how it intersects with race, gender, education, politics, and more. If you’re interested in learning about the many, many ways the U.S. government has failed its people in recent decades, Jia Tolentino’s New Yorker piece about mutual aid during COVID-19 makes an excellent companion piece to “The Great American Lie.”
The American Dream tells us anyone can do anything if they work hard and take responsibility for themselves — and it is just that, a dream. The reality is that our country is one enormous rigged game. What other conclusion can you draw when a government shirks its responsibilities — even those as basic as providing adequate healthcare and education –and shoves them onto the private sector? Sure, there are people who are doing just fine in this America, but most are not. To paraphrase one character in “The Great American Lie,” it’s really hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have boots.
“The Great American Lie” will make you angry. The characters are angry, the commentators are angry, and to judge from its title, the filmmakers are angry, too. And why not? Inequality and indifference are part of the fabric of the United States, and we’ve been conditioned to blame each other for it instead of those who wield the power. Yet the frustration the film provokes in its viewers isn’t a bug, but a feature. It makes the doc impossible to shake.
“The Great American Lie” is now available on digital and VOD. Newsom penned the film with Jessica Congdon.