White supremacy is on the rise in the U.S.; that is a fact.
They are real and antagonistic in the U.S., sometimes acting as domestic terrorists. White supremacists are one of the most dangerous forces in the U.S. today. To varied effect, different institutions have tried to combat white supremacists (I even wrote about how public universities addressed the subject in my Master’s thesis). Fighting white supremacy requires understanding how the ideals normalize and attempt to legitimize. The filmmakers of The Meaning of Hitler explore how Nazi ideals weaseled their way into respectability through propaganda and historical revisionism to excellent effect.
Directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein have a specific goal in mind with this film, demystification. They rob the Nazis of their power by breaking down Nazi imagery and the legend the Nazis crafted for themselves. Through a combination of snark and funny historical trivia, the filmmakers successfully give the documentary personality and avoid validating the Nazi’s self-flagellation as an unstoppable war machine. As fun as the snark is, the film isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, because it’s not trying to be. The humor is built more like frustration, like it’s just barely keeping down a sense of urgency until the panic bursts out. I liked this tone, it feels realistic and allows tonal shifts to feel more natural. While they do mock white supremacists, but they don’t underestimate them. The filmmakers know when it’s time to be serious and show the threat white supremacists pose, both historically and in the present day. These serious moments feel earned as they respond to the gradual build of white supremacist normalization, depicting the escalation as frighteningly seamless.
The film uses a diverse array of experts. Historians, archeologists, and professors are all used to deconstruct the narrative white supremacists crafted for themselves. I appreciate the directness of their ridicule. They don’t sugarcoat their criticism or try to appear objective because they understand how dangerous these white supremacists are. They show what happens when their ideals are validated, citing current examples of white supremacists running rampant in the real world and online. But they strategically make fun of the patheticness of white supremacists and their leaders, robbing them of power.
While The Meaning of Hitler won’t change the minds of any right-wingers, that’s not the film’s purpose. It’s more to educate general audiences and far-left political aficionados about the dangers of unintentionally validating the superiority complexes of white supremacists. You will learn something new from this film and incorporate its ideas to combat white supremacy. As important as recognizing the threat posed by white supremacists is, the film shows why we can’t play into their narrative of being an unstoppable monstrous force. In order to kill an idea, it’s essential to kill the narrative around it, and history gives us the tools to do so. As you dig deeper into the lives of these white supremacist leaders, they are not fiends; they are, as the film shows, pathetic losers.
The Meaning of Hitler is distributed by IFC Films and will be released theatrically and on VOD on August 13th.