Daisy Axon, Wesley Patten and the white horse in H is for Happiness. Courtesy photo.

I don’t know about you, but I’m scared. I use social media, doesn’t everyone? But it is increasingly becoming a dangerous playground. If you have not yet watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix, prepare to reconsider your social media options. This documentary blends investigation and narrative drama to unveil the hidden machinations behind social media and search platforms. It might just blow your mind and with any luck, help change your online habits. https://www.thesocialdilemma.com

Then, if you really want to know how deeply you’re being manipulated, watch HBO Max’s “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News.” This documentary investigates the ongoing threat of fake news, and focuses on real-life consequences that disinformation, conspiracy theories and false news stories have on the average citizen, in an election cycle and for years to come. Will it scare us straight? https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/after-truth-disinformation-and-the-cost-of-fake-news

Coming later in the year, there’s a third must-watch documentary called “Coded Bias,” in which we discover that AI (Artificial Intelligence), also known as algorithms, ultimately end up being biased against people of color, women and the LGBTQ community – as the machine learns, it teaches itself to discriminate. In the hands of law enforcement it’s proven disastrous.

That’s not intentional on the part of the coders, other than the fact that coders generally aren’t people of color—or female—so AI learns to discriminate because of the assumptions built into them…facial recognition being a key example. This documentary opens in November via Virtual Cinema — more on it later. Meanwhile, Fast Company did a cover story on the woman who made the big tech companies back down on facial recognition. https://www.fastcompany.com/90525023/most-creative-people-2020-joy-buolamwini

Why haven’t we all woken up yet?

H IS FOR HAPPINESS

It all makes me want to crawl into a cave and hibernate. But then along comes this movie: “H is for Happiness.” We can all use a feel-good, fantasy fairy tale in these fraught times, and this one fills the bill perfectly.

No, it’s not a saccharine kiddy or weird sci-fi tale. It’s a sweet, loving and most-welcome family dramedy, featuring an irresistible character named Candice Phee (Daisy Axon), who’s comprised of a little Goody Two Shoes, a touch of Pippy Longstocking and a lot of Emma Woodhouse (Jane Austen), the mis-matchmaker.

It’s set in coastal Australia, based on the book, “My Life as an Alphabet” by Barry Jonsberg, and t tells the story of a 12-year old girl determined to bring her family back from the brink and restore their happiness.

A school assignment by the quirky teacher with the freaky eye (Miriam Margolyes) makes each student write something about their life that starts with the letter of the alphabet they’re given. Candice gets “H” and chooses to create happiness.

Mom has cut herself off from the world, mourning the loss of Candice’s baby sister. Dad’s dreams were dashed when his brother pulls out of their business partnership, leaving him crushed, while his brother becomes Rich Uncle Brian.

Candice becomes best friends with a strange new schoolboy. Douglas Benson from Another Dimension (Wesley Patten) believes that he is from another dimension and must return there. He explains how the multiverse works brilliantly. And did I mention the miniature white horse? Yep. There is one.

Try as she might, Candice’s efforts all seem to backfire. She ignores the meanness of the mean girl, pushing back with kindness instead and still gets hurt. She makes a family dinner — that doesn’t turn out as planned. She arranges a surprise meeting between father and brother that blows up in their faces.

Nevertheless, she persists. Her optimism is unquenchable and I won’t spoil the arc of the story or the ending – but I will say it’s happy. Something we can really use right now.

Watch it via video on demand on all the major platforms. Trust me, this is time well-spent and your mood will lift. Get a taste here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06PKSQPjyY0&feature=emb_logo

MR. SOUL

A man who might otherwise have disappeared into the annals of public broadcasting history, Ellis Haizlip was Black, openly gay and hosted/produced a unique show on public TV from 1968 to 1973, where he introduced Black American culture, art, life, love and community to households across the nation every week. In essence, it was the Black Tonight Show.

Ellis lived life out loud and proud in a time when it was not acceptable to do so. As a Black TV pioneer, his show ushered giants and rising stars of Black American culture onto the national television stage. He was hip. He was smart. He was innovative, political and fearless.

This documentary by Ellis’s niece, Melissa Haizlip, goes deep and wide, featuring an extraordinary cast of characters and interviews, ranging from Al Green, Muhammed Ali, Sidney Poitier, Billy Preston, to Toni Morrison, Betty Shabazz, Patti LaBelle and more.

The show shifted the white gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. With participants’ recollections and a bevy of great rarely seen archival clips, MR. SOUL!  captures that critical moment in our nation’s cultural rise, and whose impact continues to resonate across generations and cultures.

Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5bLjXSFR7o And buy a Virtual Cinema ticket (support Laemmle theatres!) here: https://www.mrsoulmovie.com.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.