Fahrenheit 9/11 is a documentary-style film that explores both alleged causes and consequences of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The film is highly critical of Republican president George W. Bush and his administration, the U.S. Congress, and the mainstream media. It suggests that the Bush administration did not effectively pursue the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks because of close personal and financial ties to Saudi Arabia, and that Bush exploited the country’s unity in the wake of the attacks to promote a predetermined agenda to invade Iraq. Among other things, the film highlights the differential costs of the Iraq war for rich and poor Americans, and it addresses the extent to which U.S. corporations have profited from the war, juxtaposing this with images of insolvent American communities, where young men and women are heavily recruited to fight the war. Fahrenheit 9/11 and its creator, Michael Moore, received lavish praise and harsh criticism, and both the film and filmmaker remain controversial subjects.
Michael Francis Moore, born April 23, 1954 in Michigan, is a filmmaker, author, and social commentator. Although most of his films are classified as documentaries, Moore’s style deviates from the neutral, observational style that typifies this genre. He refers to his films as “op-ed pieces,” and approaches his subject matter with a decidedly opinionated tone. He narrates his own films and employs humor, archival footage, movie clips, and sometimes strained, impromptu interviews to mock his adversaries and persuade audiences to adopt his liberal/left-wing perspective. Moore received an Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine (2002) and twice broke records for the highest-grossing documentary film (for Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 ). His 2001 book Stupid White Men was a New York Times best-seller.
From a financial perspective, Fahrenheit 9/11 was a huge success. It was the top-rated U.S. film on its opening weekend (despite a limited theater release) and eventually became the highest grossing documentary in history. It was also a critical success, earning Moore the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The political success of the film, however, is much less clear. A Pew Research Center poll suggested that Moore was “preaching to the choir.” Seventy-six percent of those who reported seeing the film disapproved of President Bush, and those who stated that they did not plan to see it were much more likely to be politically conservative (47%) than liberal (13%).
Given Moore’s confrontational style, it is not surprising that Fahrenheit 9/11 was met with strong opposition from conservatives, including attempts to prevent cinemas from showing the film and to block advertising for it. Many conservatives have attacked the ideas presented in the film as well as the filmmaker’s credibility. Perhaps more surprising was the opposition that Moore encountered from other liberals, such as Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, journalism professor Robert Jensen, and former New York City mayor Ed Koch. Some observers have suggested that by provoking a backlash Fahrenheit 9/11 may have actually helped conservatives in the 2004 elections, although such claims are difficult to evaluate given the available data. What is clear is that Michael Moore has brought ideologically explicit messages to commercially successful documentary filmmaking, thereby inspiring other liberal documentaries including The Yes Men (2003) and The Corporation (2003), as well as numerous conservative parodies.
Moore, Michael. 2004. The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. July 21, 2004. Democratic Party Image Improvement. http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=220.
Jaime L. Napier
John T. Jost