Documentary Film Review: THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT (directed by James Fletcher)

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by Tony Frankel on June 25, 2021

in Film


I suppose there are many people who still scratch their heads contemplating Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House. Filmmaker James Fletcher’s myriad collection of media clips — along with media pundits, celebs, and pols both liberal and conservative — give a clocklike detailing that blueprints Trump’s trek from being a bigoted blowhard businessman to being a bigoted blowhard businessman president. Dilbert‘s creator, Scott Adams, is uncannily astute, novelist and CNN host Van Jones was the voice of reason, and erstwhile talk-show host Jerry Springer has some salient points, although he became a celebrity glorifying the trashy element of America and the dumbing-down of people who later might have voted for Hilary instead of watching TV. Ah, but that’s another doc. Trump’s Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway even makes an appearance, and its refreshing to see her shed most of her righteous slickness (I said “most”…).


The fascinating aspect is we are told everything that has already been heard ad infinitum from the daily media blitz, a blitz which is also part of the problem, yet in 106 compelling minutes this chronologically correct account hits every point in such a way that it feels like Cliff Notes for one of the most astounding and lengthy literary novels ever written.


Fletcher doesn’t interview the Person-on-the-Street, which wasn’t his intention, but since he doesn’t delve into the people who actually voted for Trump, or rather did not vote for Hilary, there is a human element lacking, making his film achingly familiar. Anyway, adding human interest stories would take a film longer than War and Peace. What The Accidental President logically concludes is that Trump was just doing his thing — being a media whore; killer mogul; righteous conservative — and simply went to town with guns a-blazin’. The alignment of the middle class’s death and political polarity simply fueled his “You’re Fired” fire.


As a National Parks fanatic, I had been traveling the backroads of America leading up to 9/11 and a decade after, covering over a quarter-million miles, so when a friend announced that Trump was running for President, I said without flinching, “Oh, shit, he’s gonna win.” By 2001, I noticed a huge swath of America where factories had been shuttered from jobs going to China, being replaced by Corporate America’s shitty minimum-wage jobs. As the mostly white populations were losing their livelihoods, the media began espousing about privileged white people, so the anger started long before Obama was in office (and rightfully, Obama was not spared accountability in the gruelingly necessary doc). Stores, factories and shops might have closed down, but not churches, which were sprouting up like manna in the wilderness. I would often see one drugstore, one fast food joint and seven churches just driving through one town.


I say this because it seemed odd that religion was missing in The Accidental President as one of the greatest factors for Trump’s win. I have a fundamentalist Christian in the family, and since my days as an AIDS activist in the ’80s, I have watched her side with conservative Christians regardless of sensible arguments against losers like Sarah Palin, who became popular touting what religious conservatives had espoused for decades: that they are tired of being told what to do. As Puritanism is losing its toehold in America, so is the power once retained for the religious. My sister, a very intelligent woman hypnotized by Fox News and its ilk, still voted for Trump. While the events of the past year really have White America reexamining just what inherent privilege there is in being White, many religious folks don’t seem to get that Freedom of Religion doesn’t mean you can control the population.


Given my issues, however, this journey, astoundingly edited by Noah Benezra, should be mandatory viewing for any future political campaign, poli-sci class, government class and — oh, yeah — anyone who doesn’t give a shit. You will after this movie.

stills courtesy of Intervention Media

The Accidental President
Intervention Media
documentary | U.S. | 106 min | not rated
now playing in limited engagements | released June 21, 2021
look for it on Starz, Amazon, Google, YouTube, and Vudu

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