Discovery's Spielberg Docuseries Explores 'Why We Hate'
Earlier this fall, Discovery Channel came out with a six-part docuseries that hones in on a unique topic that isn't normally examined or discussed in depth for television entertainment: the human condition of hate. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Alex Gibney, "Why We Hate" was first born out of a conversation between Spielberg and Discovery CEO David Zaslav about a passion project they could produce that would have a large global reach and impact—something that Discovery's programming is known for.
"It's not just an exploration of the origins and stories about hate, but it also has a broad scientific approach to the story. There's a philosophical, cultural, physiological, and psychological perspective to it," explained Howard Swartz, Discovery Senior Vice President of Production and Development. "The idea was that maybe there would be some insights into how we might better mitigate hate or control it, or to use this [film] to educate folks."
The film is also unique in that it's not just a TV show that airs and is one and done. It continues to live on Discovery.com and Discovery Go, and there is a huge education component to the series supported by Discovery Education. Videos, classroom activities, lesson plans, and parent viewing guides on the film have been distributed to the more than five million educators and 51 million students worldwide using Discovery Education's digital services.
Check out our Q&A with Swartz below to find out more about how the network collaborated with Spielberg and a team of talented producers and directors to tell the story of "hate" and why it's such an important topic to dissect and explore for viewers around the world.
Was there a method to how the producers wanted to see this film come together, or to the angles of "hate" they wanted to explore?
The film came out of a series of really big questions. The questions ranged from as simple as 'Why do we hate?' And these are the episode questions, and I'm paraphrasing: Why do we divide ourselves into us and them? [For example,]Democrat or Republican. This idea that we are very tribal. Another question is, if we do have the capacity to hate, then what are the tools that these groups use to awaken our worst tendencies? That gets into propaganda, dehumanization, the internet, symbols. Then we look at what drives us to embrace hateful ideas, which is our episode about extremism. What draws people to these ideologies that we're seeing? That's the rise of far-right nationalism that we're seeing. Islamic terrorism. Etcetera. Then there's the whole, 'what makes us take part in the worst extremes of hate?' Like genocide and crimes against humanity? This is really that big. Then we end on hope. How do you resist succumbing to your worst impulses? If you look at those questions, each one begs a different approach. You can see where the neuroscientist would take the lead on one, or a journalist on another. Or international extremism experts. It's really the fundamental questions of 'why we hate' that informed the scientific approach.
Why is Discovery the right network to carry this documentary?
I think one of the things that we do is we shed light on complicated issues, whether that's science or natural history. But at the end of the day, we are about holding up a mirror to the world and to ourselves, and showcasing in this instance actions that are taking place and how we might adjust our behavior or mitigate those actions. I think that's very much a part of the DNA of the Discovery brand.
Topically, [hate] is not something we tend to focus on. But we focus on inspiring changes in behavior, whether it's climate action or conservation efforts, and that carries over into things like this too. And we have such a large footprint and such a large global reach that we thought we could have a real impact exploring an idea like this globally.
Can you comment on the timeliness and relevance of this unique project, given current events?
For a variety of reasons, we find ourselves in a cultural moment where hate is on the rise. The timing of this documentary is very prescient.
When we first started talking about this as a passion project of Steven Spielberg, none of us at the time anticipated how relevant and timely it would be by the time it actually aired, when you see the rise of anti-Semitism and the far right nationalists. It's slightly surprising to people. We all thought we were on the road to doing better.
Are there any lessons people will take away from the film?
In the film, we see a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, a notorious hate group. She came to the conclusion she had been indoctrinated with these belief systems and she had to work very hard to unlearn these beliefs. I think there's a great lesson in there. That's one of the things that makes this such an important documentary, is making people aware of the origins and foundation of why they have this hate, but then also coming away with the tools and understanding that you can undo this belief system that leads you to that in the first place. That's the great opportunity for impact with a series like this. It's not just showing examples of hate, it's really digging into 'why we do the things we do' as human beings and then trying to understand the causes of those beliefs and the causes of those behaviors. Then trying to unpack those and understand them in a way that allows you to readjust your thinking, which makes this a very special and unique documentary. And it feels very "Discovery" in that way.
There are other stories like this throughout the series. Then the last episode leans into the whole hope concept. The last episode is about how to use critical thinking, education, mindfulness, cooperation, and all those things to help up combat hate. It does end on a hopeful tone that also points towards the tools that can help mitigate hate.