Review by Sean Boelman
Telling the life story of controversial Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the new documentary Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words struggles to maintain relevance with the issues it hopes to address. Although it is ultimately well-meaning, the film suffers from its lack of filter.
In the beginning, Thomas’s story is an important and inspiring one, his upbringing in Georgia during the Civil Rights era being the main focus of the movie. However, as the film begins to transition into Thomas’s legal career, it will also lose the interest of most audience members, as director Michael Pack seems to become more satisfied with delivering a generic biography.
Arguably the biggest issue with this documentary is that it is simply too long. At nearly two hours in length, it doesn’t matter how much story there is to be told, it needs to be done in a cinematic way to keep the audience’s interest. And with Pack’s painfully conventional style combined with Thomas’s often monotonous narration, that becomes a difficult task to achieve.
Almost the entirety of the movie is framed around an interview that was conducted with Thomas, and although it is compelling to hear the story from the mouth of the person who lived it, one can’t help but feel like a bit more diversity in interviewees would have been beneficial. The film does contain some brief interviews with Thomas’s wife, but they are largely inconsequential.
Of course, Pack does incorporate archive footage and photographs into the movie, but they are used in a way that pales in comparison to what Ken Burns can do with that type of materials. This is partially because the use of sound in the film is entirely underwhelming. The movie’s score is just as bland as the rest of the film’s presentation.
Even more frustrating is the fact that it doesn’t provide any real insight into Thomas as a person. A majority of the movie focuses on the major events of Thomas’s life, and while that suffices as a Wikipedia-page-style summary of his accomplishments, a documentary claiming to be “in his own words” ought to go into a bit more depth.
That said, the thing that will likely prove to be the most problematic about this film is its questionable treatment of the sexual assault allegations against Thomas. This portion of the movie seems too preoccupied with defending Thomas to address the nuances of the situation. As a result, the film feels aggressive and standoffish.
Ultimately, Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words means well, but it is executed in such a problematic and mediocre way that it does not work. Viewers would be much better off watching other more entertaining documentaries about Supreme Court Justices.
Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words is now playing in theaters.