Endangered Review: Those brave souls who practice the beautiful art of journalism have not exactly had it easy in recent years. Numerous economic issues, as well as the emergence of new platforms that pose as reliable news sources but place a greater emphasis on opinion, gossip, and innuendo, have put the industry as a whole in jeopardy.
Journalists are currently facing an upsurge in attacks from the power brokers they cover, who incite public animosity toward them by branding any critical reporting as “fake news,” engaging in tactics like harassment, detention, assault, and even murder, as in the infamous case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist.
The new documentary “Endangered” by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, whose previous works include “Jesus Camp” and “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” gives viewers an eye-opening and frequently upsetting glimpse at four journalists trying to do their jobs in the year 2020 and the attacks they face as a result.
“Endangered” introduces us to its characters as a way of demonstrating how drastically and recently things have changed after a nostalgic opening montage about how journalism was widely regarded as a respectable profession as recently as the second half of the 20th century. Reporter Patrcia Campos Mello in So Paulo, Brazil, covers election fraud involving president Jair Bolsonaro.
In response to her writing, the extreme nationalist publicly attacks her with crass, sexualized remarks, which are then magnified by his supporters. Then, in an attempt to put a stop to them and send a message that such behaviour is unacceptable, Mello takes the perilous step of suing him for defamation.
Sashenka Gutierrez, a photojournalist in Mexico City, documents demonstrations where women have taken to the streets to protest what seems to be a never-ending tide of misogynistic violence. The women are engaged in a confrontation with police officers while wearing full riot gear and possessing an aggressive demeanour that could at any time turn violent.
These events may have taken place outside of the United States, but as the movie blatantly demonstrates, the sentiment reflected in those scenes has depressingly and progressively become typical here as well. Following the murder of George Floyd, Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste documents a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Florida. His work ends up being utilized as proof to refute the police’s bogus reports about their frequently violent response to the demonstrators. Soon after that, police officers started to follow and bother him.
Oliver Laughland, a British journalist who covers American politics for The Guardian, reports from Trump rallies where his supporters are urged to criticize him and other journalists for what they perceive to be “fake news.” One-on-one conversations with some of them reveal to Laughland that they refuse to purchase publications that do not share their opinions and claim that YouTube videos are a lot more trustworthy source of information. It comes as no surprise that the movie finally progresses to the events of January 6 and depicts the rebels destroying the tools used by journalists to carry out their duties.
The film’s fundamental premise—that anti-free press attitudes once only associated with foreign countries under repressive political regimes are now finding favor in the United States as well—will not come as much of a shock to those who are aware of how accusations against the so-called Fourth Estate have been fabricated and fanned by those hoping to hide their own wrongdoings.
It’s a little shocking to watch how those ideas are applied here without the smallest hesitation; in one particularly revolting scene, a reporter covering a Black Lives Matter protest is seen lying on the ground and identifying themselves to a police officer before being sprayed in the eyes.
While much of “Endangered” is quite depressing, there are a few victories as well, such as Mello’s slander case against Bolsonaro, which has an outcome she definitely wasn’t expecting given how print journalism seems to be in a death spiral, especially with regard to vital small newspapers.
The only real issue with “Endangered” is that the four stories that Ewing and Grady investigate could have easily been expanded with more detail rather than being condensed into an 89-minute documentary (not to mention Joel Simon, who was then the executive director of the watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists and notes the rise in issues against journalists in America in recent years).
Nevertheless, the filmmakers do a fantastic job of tying things together so that what is happening in Mexico City and So Paulo is practically identical to what is happening in America. Of course, “Endangered” is unlikely to persuade extremists who oppose the press to change their beliefs (not that they would even watch it in the first place), but it is hoped that others will be surprised and startled by what they learn about what is now happening to journalists around the world. Perhaps by purchasing a subscription to their own local newspapers, viewers will be motivated to support their efforts.