Film review: Real news and fake news battle it out in ‘A Thousand Cuts’

No, this is not about the U.S. It’s about the Philippines


The new documentary “A Thousand Cuts” would be good to watch before the November elections in the United States, especially if you’re undecided.

It details the rise to power of Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, who launched a widespread campaign to kill all drug dealers and said the following to the press corps early in his administration: “Just because you’re a journalist, you think you’re exempted from assassination.” Duterte hasn’t started killing journalists yet, but he has started trying to put them in jail.

The main Duterte target, journalistically, has been Maria Ressa, the CEO and editor of Rappler, an online site that she helped found in 2012. Ressa and her team, which include many female reporters, have been staunch opponents of the drug war — in part because they say it has turned out to be a war on the poor.

Duterte, in response, has called Ressa and her site “fake news.” Duterte also rips into female reporters who question him at press conferences, and he likes to talk in public about his penis and its erectness. Yes, he’s a vulgarian. And his base eats it up.

It should also be pointed out that Ressa’s daughter, Sara, is a mayor, and she and her family have been accused of stealing money to pad their private coffers. The daughter has haughtily informed the press that her finances are nobody’s business.

Ressa, who was born in the Philippines and grew up in New Jersey, has lots to say about the United States. She points out that the whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica detailed how that group had used social media to manipulate public opinion during Duterte’s rise to power. And she says that such manipulation was a test case for the rest of the world.

Social media’s importance, she says, was paramount in Duterte’s rise. “The angle is to make you doubt the facts,” Ressa says. And she points out that the Philippines has one of the highest internet usage rates in the world, per capita.

In her research, Ressa found several fake accounts and sites that were the source of much of the disinformation, and that those accounts can quickly spread their messages to more than 3 million users. And the spread just keeps multiplying.

“Something horrific has already happened,” Ressa says. And she has a message for other democracies — that we’re not safe.

In 2018, Ressa was named by Time magazine as one of the Persons of the Year — the so-called “Guardians,” which included the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Ramona S. Diaz directs the documentary, and she has incredible access, not only to Ressa but also to Duterte and his minions. Much of the documentary footage comes from various Senate races in 2019, which Duterte supports dominated.

Ressa has been arrested and freed several times, but she was convicted of “cyber libel” in June 2020. Her case — and a sentence of six years in prison — is being appealed One of her lawyers is Amal Clooney.

“A Thousand Cuts” is streaming at the Austin Film Society website,, starting Aug. 7.


Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

Related articles