Steven Spielberg, Alex Gibney's new docuseries explores the science behind why we hate

  • The idea of the Discovery Channel docuseries Why We Hate occurred to Steven Spielberg shortly after he finished filming Schindler's List.

  • Why We Hate delves into the science behind the behaviour of hate, which then becomes a powerful tool in understanding what drives conflict.

  • The six-episodic docuseries also features detailed interviews with former terrorists and architects of genocide, which according to Geeta Gandbhir was 'absolutely critical'.

Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning 1993 film Schindler's List has a line from the Hebrew Talmud: "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

In addition to winning accolades internationally, Spielberg's film also opened up discussion on the Holocaust and what led to it. The idea of the Discovery Channel docu-series Why We Hate occurred to him after he finished filming Schindler's List, says the show's co-director Geeta Gandbhir.

 Steven Spielberg, Alex Gibneys new docuseries explores the science behind why we hate

"I think he was really troubled by the making of the film and it stayed with him. It was a question of 'why' and 'how' do we, as human beings, have this capacity of doing such terrible things to each other, like perpetrate genocide and mass destruction. How do we get there?" Gandbhir says. With the basic premise ready, Spielberg roped in the multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney as the series' co-producer. By the virtue of their past work collaborations, Gibney later got both Gandbhir and Sam Pollard on board as directors.

Gandbhir reveals that for this series, the research process was almost eight years – from the beginning of the conversations around it to the actual conception and execution of the project. She says, "It's a cutting-edge blend of journalism, there are historical investigations, there's ground-breaking research in psychology, neuroscience, biology."

"Essentially what we do is we trace the evolutionary basis of hatred and its impact on people and societies throughout human history."

As far as looking at the historical analysis of conflict in the global perspective, Gandbhir says, they travelled to places such as Germany and Poland to look at the Holocaust; Cambodia to investigate the Khmer Rouge; Rwanda where they met the survivors of the genocide; Bangladesh to talk to the refugees from Myanmar and India; Colombia where they met the former FARC rebels. Within the US, they looked at the enslavement of African Americans and instances of lynching.


With Why We Hate, the showrunners also delve into the science behind the behaviour of hate, which then becomes a powerful tool in understanding what drives conflict. To explore these facets of one of the human race's most destructive emotions, the six-episodic docuseries feature experts including cognitive scientist Laurie Santos, evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare, journalist and author Jelani Cobb, extremism expert Sasha Havlicek, international criminal lawyer Patricia Viseur Sellers, and neuroscientist Emile Bruneau.

Gandbhir explains the reason behind the episodic structure of the docuseries and says, "We see them as if it were a book, they're almost like chapters."

The first episode deals with the origins of the human brain and how it works. The second episode explores tribalism by looking at societies and how they are formed. "We have these tribal instincts in our tribal brains that can essentially lead us down this path as well," mentions Gandbhir alluding to the third episode which throws light on various factors such as the media, the political leaders, religion, that manipulate and influence these tribal societies.

"Society is a layered thing. We don't just live in societies of 150 people anymore as we did in the Stone Age; we now live in this giant global society," Gandbhir points out.

The fourth episode looks at how do we turn to extremist ideology and how certain things coalesce to turn us to extremism. The fifth episode deals with the culmination of all these factors by the means of mass destruction — what actually leads us to genocide and what's the impact of it. And then, the sixth episode looks at a way out – what are the solutions, what are ways through which people have overcome this, and what are ways that we can combat it.

Why We Hate also features detailed interviews with former terrorists and architects of genocide, which according to Gandbhir was "absolutely critical" to understanding how and why they were able to do the things they did and what their mentality was. "You have to be able to catch people before they perpetrate [sic]. The idea is if you understand how they get there, you can maybe catch them on the way," she says.


While dealing with fascism, the Nazis and the Holocaust, the docuseries also stresses that it's critical that we, as a society, be alert, aware and informed, for events of mass destruction aren't things of the past but they continue to exist. "We have to make sure all the time that this doesn't happen. Also, because it has repeated itself, over and over again," Gandbhir observes.

What is the idea of a peaceful society then? "Things like hate, tribalism will always be there because we have these Stone Age brains that are/were made to live in these smaller societies and meant to see anyone outside of that group as a threat. That is just within us – that is our nature," Gandbhir says and further adds, "Hence, we have to constantly be watchful of our society on a whole and call out the things that create unrest. We also have to look at ourselves with that same critical eye and hold ourselves and each other accountable."

"Society cannot be complicit in the ills that are going to exist.  Society has to fight them; we have to fight them," she concludes.

Watch the trailer of Why We Hate here:

— All stills from the docuseries courtesy of Discovery Channel.

Why We Hate begins airing on Sunday, 13 October, at 10 pm on Discovery Channel.

Updated Date: Oct 13, 2019 09:40:00 IST