“We’ve never made a film during a time of such terror. We didn’t feel this way after 9/11 after making [Fahrenheit 9/11],” Michael Moore said to a small group of family and friends over dinner — including Flint whistleblower April Cooke Hawkins and Parkland student activists — just hours before his latest film, Fahrenheit 11/9, was set to premiere to a packed house at the Ryerson Theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival. With the sun setting behind him, Moore added, “We’re very much in a take-no-prisoners mind-set.”
Unlike his past work, Fahrenheit 11/9 is Michael Moore at his most restrained, with the filmmaker leaving behind many of his trademark agitprop flourishes. (Don’t worry, there are still a couple of stunts.) The initial focus is the 2016 presidential election, when Donald Trump became the president of the United States — but rather than make a film lampooning the buffoonery of Trump, Moore takes him seriously as a figure who emerged out of a broken system that includes the Electoral College, political cronyism, and the Democratic Party (which yes, includes Barack Obama). It has moments of humor (that the Canadian audience seemed to appreciate more than, say, an American journalist), but is mostly an unflinching look at the political moment as a whole. Moore himself appears mostly in voice-over, as he covers everything from the Flint water crisis to the Parkland school shooting to the teacher strikes of West Virginia.
Below, we’ve listed Moore’s biggest targets from Fahrenheit 11/9.
Like any good high-school debate team captain, Michael Moore acknowledges early on that he has gone soft on Trump and the administration in the past. Moore starts with his appearance alongside Trump on Roseanne Barr’s talk show in 1998 at Tavern on the Green. Trump initially said he was going to walk unless Roseanne’s producers could convince Moore to go easy on him; Moore acquiesced, not wanting to ruin the show. There are a couple of other facts addressed: Jared Kushner threw the opening night party for Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko, Steve Bannon’s company did the home video release for that film, and there’s a video of Moore looking cozy with Kellyanne Conway just days before the election.
In a (mostly) joking manner, Moore pins the blame of the Trump presidency on Gwen Stefani, whom he says was making more as a judge on The Voice than Trump was when he was hosting The Apprentice. Apparently this pay disparity prompted Trump to pretend to run for the presidency as a way to convince NBC that he was very popular and therefore worth more money. After delivering a long-winded racist rant, NBC fired him — and the rest is history.
The most powerful moments of Fahrenheit 11/9 occur when Moore goes back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, and examines the water crisis, which he calls a “slow-motion ethnic cleansing.” This time, he takes aim squarely at Governor Rick Snyder, who removed democratically elected mayors from cities across the state and installed his cronies in emergency manager appointments. Most devastatingly, he switched Flint’s water supply from the glacial water of Lake Huron to that of the polluted water from the Flint River. The evidence is damning: documents demonstrating that Snyder knew about the poisoned water and did not act; Department of Health employee April Cooke Hawkins discussing how she was told to minimize the lead absorption levels tested in children. Most shockingly, Moore points out how Snyder ordered that the water used at the General Motors factory in Flint be switched back to Lake Huron, because the Flint River water was damaging the auto parts (and GM was one of his donors), but that the citizens would continue to drink the toxic water. Moore, and many others in Flint, believe this is a criminal act.
The Electoral College
Moore calls for an end to the arcane system known as the Electoral College, where the votes come inside “baby coffins” and a candidate can win the popular vote but lose the election.
The Democratic Party
To Moore, the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi & Co. is out of touch and unable to mobilize American citizens, even though most of them have liberal values around everything from abortion to gun control to immigration. He also points out how the DNC is a sham: even though Bernie Sanders won every county in West Virginia, the majority of the delegate votes had gone to Hillary Clinton.
Moore traces many of the Democratic Party’s current problems to President Clinton, who signed crime laws resulting in the incarceration of more black people, weakened welfare, passed the Defense of Marriage Act, enacted NAFTA, and deregulated banks.
“The worst thing that President Obama did was pave the way for Donald Trump,” Moore says in one voice-over. Moore excoriates Obama over the former president’s Flint water stunt, when he pretended to drink the water from Flint and says that as a child, he probably consumed lead paint, rather than call a national emergency and switch the water supply back. He doesn’t stop there, pointing out that Obama increased deportations and family separation more than any other president before him, imprisoned whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, and increased drone strikes.
The Mainstream Media
Something Moore gives Trump a lot of credit for is how the president manipulated the mainstream news to get publicity in the early days of his campaign. He points out how many of the media men who were tough on Hillary Clinton during the election campaign were later accused of sexual harassment, including Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly. There are a couple of stinging moments, too, for Jeff Zucker and Les Moonves, with the latter saying that while Trump “may not be good for America” he’s “good for us.”
The New York Times
The Gray Lady doesn’t look good in Moore’s documentary; he positions them as handmaidens of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, big business, and warmongers.
To Moore’s credit, Fahrenheit 11/9 takes more time to dissect the system that created Trump rather than Trump himself. Many of the facts of Trump are well-known: he has a history of racism and creepy sexual advances. However, there is one incredibly uncomfortable sequence of photos and sound bites of Trump discussing, touching, dissecting, and praising his daughter Ivanka’s body, suggesting that if she were not his daughter, he would date her.