A cheap dig at the United States or a fine example of the art of trolling?
As Russia’s Channel One ended its prime-time screening of the 2000 Russian crime film Brat 2 (Brother 2) on June 7, viewers across the country -- instead of the closing credits -- were treated to a video compilation of looting and police violence on the streets of U.S. cities, all apparently filmed during the ongoing period of unrest that was sparked by the May 25 killing while in police custody of unarmed African-American George Floyd.
“The key values of the Free World are shattering under the blows of police batons,” a voiceover then says, as the music fades into the background. “And burning in the flames of looted stores and drowning in the fury of an uncompromising standoff.”
It was a jarring stunt that pushed the narrative advanced by Russian state media since the protests against racism and police violence prompted by Floyd’s death began almost two weeks ago. Talking heads and pundits on government-controlled channels, which have steadily squeezed out independent programming since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, have seized the opportunity to slam perceived U.S. hypocrisy and highlight the multiple instances of police violence against protesters.
The scenes that replaced the closing credits on June 7 were accompanied by Goodbye, America, a song by Soviet band Nautilus Pampilius that is also known by the title Farewell Letter, and showed vehicles being overturned and set alight, a police car slamming into a crowd of protesters, and officers pushing bystanders. In one scene, a group of people runs out through a hole in the shattered front window of a store, clutching various items apparently stolen from its shelves.
After the voiceover, Channel One presenter Georgy Olisashvili is shown marching with demonstrators through the streets of Manhattan as he begins his news report on the protests unfolding around him. In this way, the end of the movie blends almost seamlessly with the start of Channel One’s main evening news program, a sequence which can be viewed on the channel’s website.
Many viewers in Russia were angry over what they denounced as a clear case of manipulation by Channel One.
Prominent opposition activist and lawyer Lyubov Sobol wrote on Twitter that the channel should have also added a promo for a set of controversial constitutional amendments that, if passed, will allow Putin to seek a fifth and a sixth term as president. “Animals,” she called the producers of the stunt.
“I can imagine how Kremlin propagandists would shriek if an American channel showed photos from Norilsk after a movie about a catastrophe,” wrote anti-Kremlin blogger Aleksandr Gorbunov, or StalinGulag, in a post on Twitter, apparently referring to the recent diesel-fuel spill that has poisoned rivers in Russia’s Arctic.
Brat 2 was released in 2000, and Russia is currently marking its 20th anniversary with screenings and other events. The June 7 showing was preceded by Brat (Brother), the gritty 1990s crime movie that inspired the sequel.
Both films were written and directed by Aleksei Balabanov, the famed Russian director best known for several films depicting life in Russia at the end of the Soviet period. He died in 2013.
“I wonder, did they get Balabanov’s consent for this?” one person tweeted ironically, appending a hashtag in Russian that translates to “the lies of Putinist TV” alongside the hashtag of the U.S. protest movement, #BlackLivesMatter.