How to Become a Tyrant Docu series Review: A tale of six dictators
Stressing how each tyrant starts with a megalomaniacal self-confidence, the producers use archival footage and even graphic art and animation to forward the storyline
"Freedom is not the norm. We love being ruled.” Netflix’s new docu-series, How to Become a Tyrant, starts with this satirical statement. By the time you reach the end of the sixth episode, you realise how very true it is. Starting with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the episodes follow Saddam Hussein’s ‘expunging’ brutality, Idi Amin’s sheer barbarism in Uganda, Joseph Stalin’s control of truth and manipulation of the mindset of his people, Muammar Gaddafi’s steps to carve a society into his image, and finally, North Korea and the Kim dynasty. It is, as the experts in the docu-series say, the idea of “I alone can fix it all” that brings such men to power and in most cases, initially makes them seem even alluring to the populace. After all, the Butcher of Uganda—Amin—was once known as the Gentle Giant.
Neatly divided into six episodes—each dealing with one dictator—the series is presented as a ‘Handbook’ on how to be the perfect tyrant. Narrated by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), it strikes the perfect balance between lifting the veil off the cold, dark brutality of oppressive regimes and sneaking in some light moments with the help of an expert panel that does not dwell on the blood and gore alone. Also, the series resonates with our times. Former US President Donald Trump showed us recently how truth can be inconvenient. Maybe he should have taken a leaf out of Joseph Stalin’s ‘Handbook’, which North Korea has completely mastered with its blanket ban on outside information.
While it is almost impossible to rein in an entire life story—humble background, failures, rise to power, challenges, threats and fall—in a span of 30-odd minutes (the time-span of each episode), How to Become a Tyrant does an admirable job. It also serves as a reminder in these times how hatefulness, national pride, outrage against the ‘other’ and a message that ‘sells’ can easily be weaponised into the hands of a strong leader. As Hitler says in archival footage in Episode 1—“I am you, and you are me”—common grievance acts as the much-needed glue that brings the masses together.
Stressing how each tyrant starts with a megalomaniacal self-confidence, the producers use archival footage and even graphic art and animation to forward the storyline. No other documentary in recent memory has attacked such regimes and their celebrated cult leaders for what they actually are—part of political pageantry—with such fact-based ferocity. There is already a talk of Season 2 in the making. And with the world abounding in many such cult figures, there won’t be any dearth of material. This, here, is a must-watch.