Man on a mission
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
In the opening shots of the documentary Fauci, one of the most famous scientists in the world does some serious time traveling.
As he makes his way up the stairs and into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland in the modern day, a split screen shows a bespectacled Dr. Anthony S. Fauci entering the same building decades earlier. And although the scenes featuring the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are strangely similar, there’s a stark difference. To get to work in 2020, the man who has become the public face of the nation’s COVID-19 response required security detail to take him to and from the office.
One might think the threats and harassment that led to him and his family needing full-time protection would have the infectious disease specialist running scared, but the Brooklyn-raised physician is made of tough stuff, and Fauci does a yeoman’s job of portraying him not only as a man on a mission to help bring an end to a global pandemic, but also as a well-educated warrior who won’t be silenced by attacks from adversaries in a country increasingly divided by political party lines. In his arsenal are the facts and a deep sense of responsibility to humanity.
“Right now a lot of people think I’m the bad guy,” Fauci says during the 104-minute documentary. “I’m the bad guy to an entire subset of people because I represent something that is uncomfortable to them—it’s called the truth.
“My weapon, in addition to the science, is speaking to the American public. What keeps me grounded is the enormity of the problem.”
As viewers come to learn, the doctor is no stranger to finding himself in the crosshairs. Before COVID-19 made him a household name, he oversaw the U.S. response to other outbreaks—including HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola.
The movie toggles back and forth between critics who lambasted Fauci during the AIDS crisis and those who have taken their cue from people like former president Donald Trump and called for him to step down from his position as the Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States, despite the fact that he led the team that created vaccines to combat the coronavirus in under a year.
A major difference from the before-time is that AIDS activists were increasingly frustrated that the science wasn’t progressing fast enough to save their lives, while today’s critics are casting doubt on the revelatory findings of one of the most published researchers in the world. Many of them have yet to get vaccinated, allowing the Delta variant of the coronavirus to spread throughout the land. Once again, many ICUs in hospitals across the United States are overflowing with COVID-19 patients—most of whom are unvaccinated—and other people who need lifesaving care aren’t readily able to access it.
The movie ends shortly after Fauci got vaccinated last December, but if the documentarians had continued the story, they’d see that despite President Joe Biden’s push to get as many Americans vaxxed as possible, his predecessor’s muddled messaging about the severity of the virus when he was in the Oval Office did lasting damage.
They’d probably also find that Fauci still isn’t deterred by the controversy. After all, we’re talking about the guy who worked with AIDS activists to change the way clinical trials were run to include more people of color, women and children—something that transferred into cancer research, and far beyond—and eventually came up with a way to stop the disease in its tracks both in the United States and around the globe.
He also brought fact-based leadership to the table in 2014 when Ebola threatened to become a pandemic, and his team spent many years prior to the outset of COVID devoting time to making MRNA vaccines—which is what allowed the Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J vaccines to become so quickly available.
Although Dr. Fauci admits that discord is dominating the discussion around COVID-19, he still thinks we’ll get through the pandemic “despite the divisiveness, not because of it.”
Those watching Fauci at theaters across the country that have committed to requiring proof of vaccination—like the Pickford Cinema, which is currently showing the documentary at its downtown Bellingham digs—will see that the titular character is just a man doing his job to the best of his ability. Luckily for us, his job just may help save the world.
“When you have a global pandemic, you absolutely need a global solution,” Fauci says near the end of the film. “To think you can take care of yourself without taking care of the rest of the world is just folly.”
To purchase tickets to Fauci, go to http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org