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Culture Documentary

Speakers beware?

Adam Carolla (left) and Dennis Prager (Mark Joseph)


Speakers beware?

No Safe Spaces is a freewheeling primer on the assaults on free speech

The roll out of No Safe Spaces, Dennis Prager and Adam Carolla’s documentary about assaults on free speech, seems to underscore the movie’s point. First Facebook refused to carry ads for the film. Then the MPAA insisted on giving it a PG-13 rating instead of PG. The reason? It shows footage of a protester punching a conservative student in the face for passing out tracts. And because of a brief tongue-in-cheek cartoon showing the First Amendment being shot. 

Mildly incendiary? Maybe. But less provocative than plenty of double entendres that pop up in PG-rated Dreamworks animated movies.

But despite a few digressions, No Safe Spaces succeeds because it does a solid job making its case journalistically. Carolla and Prager interview plenty of experts who would be considered ideological opponents, like Van Jones, Cornell West, and Andrew Sullivan. They also have some interesting panel discussions with nonpolitical figures who’ve fallen afoul of modern speech police. 

A lecturer at Yale sparks protests after suggesting students can decide for themselves which Halloween costumes are offensive. A professor at Evergreen State College is mobbed by radical students because he refuses to cancel class for an event for minority students known as “A Day of Absence.” He is eventually fired. Worse, the administration does nothing to ensure standards or order or even the safety of its staff. A teaching assistant loses her job because she plays a clip of a professor of transgender studies debating Jordan Peterson as an illustration about grammar usage.

What the film doesn’t do as well is delve into thornier issues of free speech, like where private companies’ rights end and the public’s interest begins.

Toward the end, No Safe Spaces loses focus somewhat, drifting into generic gripes about millennial snowflakes. This would seem to undermine its stated aim to encourage dialogue and clarity. Still, it offers a freewheeling primer on just how vulnerable the First Amendment has become.