Louis Theroux says platforming extremists in new BBC docuseries “cultivates empathy”

The documentary maker says people have a choice to be "curious" about hateful phenomena

Louis Theroux has defended his reasons for platforming US extremists in his new docuseries Forbidden America.

In an op-ed for The Guardian, Theroux previewed his latest BBC Two series with details about the people and topics he explores. These range from white nationalists, online trolls and figures in the porn world who have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Referencing what appears to be an exponential trend of cancel culture, as well as regular conversations about de-platforming hateful or controversial figures across media, the documentary maker justified why he continues to dig in to their worlds and views.

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“These troubled, sometimes dangerous people are legitimate subjects of journalistic inquiry,” Theroux wrote.

“You wouldn’t have them sitting in as pundits on The Moral Maze but in the right context, with the right approach, speaking to people who have done terrible things can be a totally valid exercise: revealing and ultimately life-affirming, shining a light on aspects of human psychology and society in a way that promotes understanding and cultivates empathy.”

He argued that, while it’s not totally clear cut, viewers can choose to disengage with investigative journalism of its kind.

“So the choice we are faced with is whether to be curious about that phenomenon, try to figure out why it’s growing, what it’s feeding on, how it can be challenged, or whether to ignore it and hope it goes away,” Theroux added.

“These aren’t always easy situations to figure out and each of them needs careful thought,” he said of applying nuance to decisions in how divisive, amoral, offensive or dangerous topics are covered.

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“The bigger point, though, is that I do understand how, viewed in this context, my decision to put some potentially dangerous and inflammatory figures on BBC Two primetime might appear flat-out weird and irresponsible.

Louis Theroux
Louis Theroux – Credit: Alamy

“But for all the challenges we faced, and the difficulties of facing up to content that is upsetting at times, I’d also like to think the job is important and worthwhile, and that the difficulties involved are, among other things, a testament to the timeliness and weight of the subjects.”

Also in the three-part series is an episode that sees the filmmaker immerse himself amid “trigger-happy” rappers and hip-hop scenes in the southern states, notably Florida, as stakes are raised in the world of constant social media connectivity.

“Many artists become successful through self-promotion online, looking at ways to connect with fans – from feuding online, opening up about their anxieties and fears, and live-streaming their sometimes chaotic lifestyles,” a description of the Forbidden America episode reads.

“Louis will meet people at different stages of their quest to become successful and followed, from those who have risen fast to those who have fallen hard.”

Theroux recently aired the documentary Shooting Joe Exotic, which looks back on the titular controversial figure in the wake of Netflix’Tiger King, as well as his own interview with Exotic 10 years ago.

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