Theatre of the Oppressed Practices Shown in Activist Documentary Not Going Quietly

By Amanda Rabinowitz, Pace University Student and Fall 2021 Docbloc Fellow

Not Going Quietly (Nicholas Bruckman, 2021) is a documentary film that highlights the story of political activist Ady Barkan. Barkan was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 32, and fearing rising health care costs in light of the proposed 2018 tax form, heads for Washington as part of a group voicing its concerns. The documentary offers a voice to those who will not be silenced. As Ady loses his voice, the film showcases how he utilizes his limited time to fight for his life. 

While watching the film, I couldn’t help but notice how Augusto Boal’s Brazilian theatre practice (Theatre of the Oppressed) is applied while Ady and his gang are on the road. One scene in particular highlights Boal’s concept of “Forum Theatre.” On the road, Ady and his staff meet with local activists to practice what they would say, do, and act when allowed to confront legislative representatives. Ady and his fellow activists take turns in becoming spectators – one person would pretend to be a senator who refuses to listen to the activist. At the same time, the other would try to get the senator’s attention and response. 

By playing these games, the team of advocates was able to actively test multiple ways to approach the senator and get their points across. They placed themselves in various scenarios –where they get arrested (which did happen), where they were silenced, where they were avoided, where they were shunned, and where they were given excuses. This prepared them to approach these political figures, and in the following scenes, the audience can watch this Theatre of the Oppressed method in action. The results from this game were positive in many cities, harmful in others. Still, they allowed the activists to apply this practice and impact their communities and on a national scale. They became the voices for those who could not speak and ultimately accomplished what Boal taught. 

Learn more about the film here:

Watch Not Going Quietly