Review: ‘We Are Many,’ starring Mark Rylance, Damon Albarn, John le Carré, Medea Benjamin, Lawrence Wilkerson, Jesse Jackson and Amira Howeidy

October 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anti-war protesters in London on February 15, 2003 in “We Are Many” (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

“We Are Many”

Directed by Amir Amirani 

Culture Representation: The documentary “We Are Many,” which is about how the 2003 protests against the Iraq war sparked a worldwide anti-war movement, features a racially diverse group of people (white, African Americans, Asians and Latinos) from various countries who talk about the impact of these protests on social activism.

Culture Clash: Many of the people in the documentary say that governments won’t make changes unless enough people protest and demand changes.

Culture Audience: “We Are Many” will primarily appeal to people who like watching political documentaries that have liberal-leaning attitudes about war.

Anti-war protesters in New York City on February 15, 2003 in “We Are Many” (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The documentary “We Are Many” expresses many timeless beliefs about peace being a better alternative to war, but the movie still can’t quite help look outdated in many ways. Directed by Amir Amirani, “We Are Many” was originally released in the United Kingdom in 2015, and didn’t get a U.S. release until 2020. A lot has happened in those five years that have shaken up political systems around the world, including Brexit and the elections of politically conservative presidents or prime ministers in several countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Brazil and the Philippines.

“We Are Many” has a hodgepodge of commentaries from people in politics, science, the military and the entertainment industry who consider themselves to be social activists. It’s a movie that slants heavily in the direction of progressive liberal ideals, so people who are already inclined to have these beliefs are more likely to watch this documentary, which tends to have a “preaching to the converted” tone.

The overall concept of “We Are Many” is that people in the general public outnumber the politicians and other government officials who are in charge of making government policies. And therefore, it’s up to the majority (the people in the general public) to keep these officials in check and protest if these officials aren’t doing what’s in the best interest of the people they serve. The documentary gives a lot of credit to the worldwide protests against the Iraq War for sparking a 21st century movement of anti-war protests that are truly on a global scale in ways that anti-war protests hadn’t been before February 15, 2003: the flagship date when anti-Iraq War protests took place in several countries around the world.

“We Are Many” interviews a lot of talking heads, to the point where it seems a little too overstuffed with people repeating the same beliefs over and over. There are almost no viewpoints expressed from people who disagree with what these pundits are saying. Hindsight can easily say that the now-debunked “weapons of mass destruction” argument as the main reason to declare war in Iraq was a falsehood/mistake that should never have happened.

But it’s quite another thing to take a more analytical approach to explain why war happens instead of forcing a blanket mindset that “all war is evil, no matter what.” Would the Nazi Germans have been defeated if World War II had not happened? If the U.S. Civil War hadn’t happened, how much longer would slavery have been legal in the U.S., considering that the Emancipation Proclamation happened as a direct result of the U.S. Civil War?

As it stands, “We Are Many” focuses on the Iraq War as being an example of a war that was worth protesting. The movie, although it has good intentions, needed better editing so that it wouldn’t seem so scattershot and unfocused. It jumps from people commenting on the 9/11 attacks to people talking about how the anti-Iraq War protests affected the civil uprisings in Egypt to people giving an analysis to how people protested in the United States and Australia to how the war altered political history in the United Kingdom

And because there are numerous people interviewed in the movie, most of their comments are reduced to brief soundbites. Here’s the very long list of people interviewed in the documentary:

  • Damon Albarn, musician/producer (Blur, Gorillaz)
  • Tariq Ali, British political activist, writer and journalist
  • Anas al-Tikriti, CEO/founder of The Cordoba Foundation
  • David Babbs, co-founder of campaign community 38 Degrees
  • Medea Benjamin, Code Pink co-founder
  • Tony Benn, British Politician who served in Parliament for 47 years
  • Phyllis Bennis, writer/analyst/director of New Internationalism Project at IPS
  • Joan Blades, political activist/Huffington Post blogger
  • Dr. Hans Blix, former UN Weapons Inspector
  • David Blunkett, British Labour Party politician/Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
  • Raffaella Bolini, member of the International Council of the World Social Forum/vice president of the European Civic Forum
  • Richard Branson, business mogul
  • Vanessa Branson, sister of Richard Branson/founder of Marrakech Biennale
  • Dave Burgess, Australian environmentalist
  • Leslie Cagan, activist/writer/Socialist organizer
  • Noam Chomsky, philosopher
  • Jeremy Corbyn, chair of the Stop the War Coalition and a Member of Parliament for Islington North
  • David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute/chair of the board of the Fourth Freedom Forum
  • Mariah Crossland, former U.S. Antarctic research center at the McMurdo in Antarctica
  • Brian Eno, musician/record producer/theorist
  • Lord Charles Falconer, English qualified barrister/former U.K. Lord Chancellor and first Secretary of State for Justice
  • Bill Fletcher Jr., activist/author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!”
  • Lindsey German, convenor of Stop the War Coalition/co-author of “A People’s History of London”
  • Danny Glover, actor/activist
  • Tim Goodrich, U.S. Air Force veteran/co-founder Iraq Veterans Against the War
  • Robert Greenwald, founder and president of Brave New Films
  • Hossam Hamalawy, Egyptian journalist/blogger/photographer/social activist
  • Tom Hayden, activist/author/politician
  • Amira Howeidy, Egyptian journalist
  • Jesse Jackson, founder of Rainbow/PUSH
  • Colleen Kelly, founding member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
  • Ashraf Khalil, journalist/author of the critically acclaimed book “Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation”
  • Wael Khalil, Egyptian political activist
  • Ron Kovic, Vietnam War veteran/author
  • John le Carré, author
  • Robbie Liben, former senior computer technician at McMurdo Station in Antarctica
  • Ken Loach, film director
  • Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund
  • Sameh Naguib, Egyptian sociologist at the American University in Cairo
  • Chris Nineham, political activist/founding Member of the Stop the War Coalition
  • Peter Oborne, chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph
  • Gasser Abdel Razek, human rights activist
  • John Rees, political activist/broadcaster/writer/national officer of the Stop the War Coalition/founding member of Counterfire
  • Mark Rylance, actor
  • Philippe Sands, British and French lawyer at Matrix Chambers/professor of international law University College London
  • Susan Sarandon, actress
  • Will Saunders, astronomer
  • Clare Short, British politician
  • Hani Shukrallah, Egyptian journalist and political analyst
  • Marina Sitrin, writer/lawyer/teacher/editor/author
  • Patrick Tyler, journalist/author
  • Esther Vivas, activist in Barcelona
  • Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and associate director of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning
  • Salma Yaqoob, former leader/former vice-chair of the Respect Party/former Birmingham City Councillor/member of Birmingham Stop the War Coalition
  • Andy Young, mechanic at McMurdo Station in Antarctica

Even with this overabundance of people who repeat similar views of being against the war in Iraq, there are some interviewees in the documentary who stand out with their comments.

Goodrich, a U.S. Air Force veteran who in 2004 co-founded Iraq Veterans Against the War, says, “I do remember in the steady drumbeat to war, there was one sane voice in the crowd … Colin [Powell] is the only one who’s going to be able to stop this.” Blix says of Powell’s eventual advocation for war in Iraq: “I don’t really want to criticize him, but it was a debacle for him and the world.”

Wilkerson (Powell’s former chief of staff) says about crafting Powell’s now-infamous testimony that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: “Yeah, I was in charge of it. And when I finished it and thought about it, I felt miserable, because I thought we had just put a whole array of circumstantial evidence up that can be interpreted in any number of different ways. And we were probably going to war, and it sort of bothered me. And now, I feel like it was the lowest point, as I’ve said before, in my professional and personal life. I wish I had resigned.”

Later in the documentary, Wilkerson says that if George W. Bush (the U.S. president who declared war on Iraq), Dick Cheney (Bush’s vice president) and Donald Rumsfeld (who was U.S. secretary of defense from 2001 to 2006) were ever brought to trial on war crimes because of their decisions for the Iraq War, Wilkerson thinks he should also be one of the people who should be punished for the same crimes. The documentary includes archival footage of Code Pink co-founder Benjamin and other activists ambushing Rumsfeld at public events and yelling at him “War criminal!” before being taken away by security personnel.

Tony Blair, the British prime minister who aligned himself with Bush during the Iraq War, is also described as a villain by many people in the documentary. Corbyn says that Blair took various MPs aside individually and pressured them to be loyal to him about the Iraq War, by asking them, “Are you with me or against me?”

Oscar-winning British actor Rylance says of Blair: “I think should be at the Hague. He should be tried for war crimes against society.” As for author le Carré (who’s known for political thrillers such as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”), he doesn’t mince words when he share his thoughts about the war in Iraq: “It was the crime of the century.”

The documentary notes: “Tony Blair and all members of his 2003 British Cabinet were invited for interviews. Only David Blunkett, Paul Boateng and Clare Short accepted.” However, only Short ended up in the movie, and she says nothing surprising or revealing because she puts the blame on U.S. leaders for providing the misinformation that led to Blair’s administration siding with the United States. She says that “Rumsfeld, at the first meeting after the attack on the Twin Towers, said, ‘That’s it. Let’s go after Iraq.'”

As for the political activism that resulted from the controversial Iraq War, the documentary puts a lot of emphasis on international peace protests. But “We Are Many” doesn’t fully acknowledge that, for a period of time in the U.S., it was considered very unpopular and unpatriotic to protest against the war because the war was widely perceived as being a war against the terrorists who caused 9/11. The movie doesn’t mention the American country-music trio the Dixie Chicks and how their anti-war/anti-George W. Bush comments damaged their career.

Instead, there’s a parade of people in the documentary who act as if more people in the general public should have known in 2003 that no weapons of mass destruction existed. It goes into a slippery slope of an “I told you so” attitude that’s fueled by hindsight and evidence that came out long after the fact. “We Are Many” has its heart in the right place, but there’s a heavy-handed preachiness to how it expects everyone who’s against war to be out there protesting in the streets, when that’s not necessarily how all concerned citizens express their activism and political views.

Of those who do choose to protest in the streets, musician Albarn says that his experiences from 2003 taught him that one big march isn’t enough. More public protests have to continue for the government to really pay attention. “If you keep coming back, you will make the change,” says Albarn.

Film director Loach adds: “I don’t think the marching itself would’ve stopped the war, because people go home and governments live with that. What they [governments] can’t live with is serious organization. And that’s what we needed out of that.”

Of course, so much has happened in worldwide protests since this documentary was completed—including worldwide movements for the Women’s March, March for Our Lives (against gun violence) and Black Lives Matter—that “We Are Many” seems very outdated when people in the movie wistfully talk about how the Iraq War was the last time that people around the world came together to march for a single cause. However, the sincere beliefs to choose peace whenever possible are the most important aspects of this movie, and those beliefs will never become obsolete.

Area 23a Films and Iambic Dream Films released “We Are Many” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on September 25, 2020. The movie was originally released in the United Kingdom in 2015.