by Matthew Rowe
The access that "The Revisionaries" filmmaker Scott Thurman has to his controversial subject, Don McLeroy, is amazing. McLeroy attracted national attention as a member of the Texas State Board of Education that oversaw many changes to public school textbooks and curriculum including calling into question evolution and the inflation of the importance of socially conservative historical figures at the cost of progressive thought and the contributions of women and minorities. Through the film, Thurman chronicles the moves of the Board and uses several key players as talking heads to create the narrative.
It is his use of McLeroy, however, that is the most interesting and most frustrating. McLeroy, a new earth creationist, believes that the earth is 10,000 years old and believes the science of evolution taught at public schools should be up to the student to decide between. He tells a radio caller that "science is great but it doesn't deserve the pedestal it's placed on." There are moments when McLeroy, a dentist by trade, is literally pushing his thoughts down people's throats as he proselytizes the gospel to patients he is working on.
The film also shows the machinations of other members of the board and their religious convictions to remake the textbooks in the image of their beliefs. We hear from opponents of McLeroy and their disappointment with the massive influence non-scientists have in the process of teaching science to students. Seemingly every move McLeroy and the majority of board make is against the wishes of fairness, equality and the separation of church and state. In this standard, McLeroy and company are clearly in the wrong, and the film makes this apparent.
As a film, "The Revisionaries" works best as a call to arms to those who feel the far right is remaking government in its own image. In this regard, the film seems like it's only playing to the choir, and every boneheaded move is amplified by talking heads almost saying "Can you believe this guy?" Unfortunately, for people like McLeroy, being wrong on this standard only makes them feel like they are being persecuted for their beliefs, and makes them more resolute.
"The Revisionaries" is a well-made film that will keep you entertained and breathless, but I can't help but feel it didn't utilize people like McLeroy to the fullest. There is a moment in which an exasperated McLeroy says that he doesn't understand the people who see things differently from him. He doesn't understand why they see him as dangerous. This is the only part in the film where we're given insight to the man we have the most access to, and the only part where he actively questions things outside his ideology. It's a missed opportunity that will might make you feel "The Revisionaries" is slightly bereft.