Cinema Series Interview: “The Great Dictator”

Lenore Pomerance interviews Maryetta Andrews-Sachs and Bob Zeskind on presenting “The Great Dictator” for the MAGPS Cinema Series September 23, 2017 movie.


LMP: At our last movie, we talked about the new MAGPS theme of taking in the political, social and psychological challenges of today and reflecting our response to them in our educational programs.  Bob, you spontaneously thought of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” which was his spoof on Hitler.  Can you tell us a little of why that association came so spontaneously to your mind?


Maryetta and Bob: White racism has always been close under the surface – but rarely acknowledged.  It has clearly mushroomed, seemingly in response to the Obama Presidency.  It’s not a big stretch to think of Trump and the title of this movie.


LMP: That was last Spring. How have things changed or progressed since then?  I’m thinking about what the Nazis tapped into that is being tapped into in our country today? I guess we only have to look at what happened in Charlottesville!


M&B: It is what has been brought out by the campaign’s rhetoric that has led to the White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, KKK, and supporters feeling more emboldened.  Before, there were coded messages, “dog whistles” reflecting these currents. Now they are being shouted in public squares, “Make America Great Again” is obviously Make America White Again.


LMP: As group therapists, we are on high alert for two important dynamics, scapegoating and paranoia of the other.  How does the movie reflect them, and the parallel in our society?


M&B: Clearly the movie is about Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and the creation of an Aryan race, i.e. White and blonde, which is certainly one of the major episodes of scapegoating and “othering.” Fear is the Father of Hate – and off we go.


LMP: What would you say about the bubble some of us feel we are living in?


M&B: It’s hard for any individual to recognize the bubble they live in.  How can the bubbles be popped so that we truly engage with each other and find our common interests?  What is involved in doing this, not just on an individual level, but on a community level?  Where do we begin?


LMP: Yes, those are just the questions we are posing to ourselves, and through our educational programs, attempt to come up with meaningful responses.   Does the movie show any opposition to Hitler, similar to ours here?


M&B: There are a few characters opposed to Hitler in the movie.  Others are either killed off – or passive.  Think of reactions to Senator Joseph McCarthy in our country.  How will each of us respond to further injustices here?


LMP: Exactly!  What do you want to say about Chaplin’s epilogue at the end of the movie?


M&B: He is calling us to the better angels of our nature!  If only every leader led with such messages. His words continue to be relevant, unfortunately.  Note that he is also asking soldiers to fight with the love of humanity in their hearts.


LMP: Yes.  This movie is uncanny in its relevance for us today.  I just finished watching the movie as well as a documentary on Chaplin’s life. He was a genius, and a very complex man, hated and loved.   He was hounded out of this country because of his perceived Russian communist sympathies, communist sympathizers being among the major scapegoats of the 1950s.   Yet he was humbly grateful to the motion picture academy that presented him with a lifetime achievement Oscar. In that documentary, his daughter said he was only granted a ten-day visa to attend the event.  She exhorted him not to go.  He replied that he was delighted saying, “You see, they are still afraid to me.”


Maryetta and Bob, thank you so much for kicking off our new 2017-2018 season with this movie. This will be a really rich experience for us all.


Be sure to RSVP to Lenore that you will be coming to the movie on September 23, 2017.


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