Some people are disturbed when a documentary doesn't seem objective enough. They say the film is too one-sided and unnuanced. While I think it's great to recognize multi-faceted memories and narratives, I don't know how useful it is to measure a documentary in terms of objectiveness when, by the nature of storytelling, things will always be left out. So I am always drawn to documentaries that don't even try to be objective. Instead they just tell one story. One side. And it's up to you to take it for what it is: a document of a point of view. And James Toback's film about boxer Mike Tyson does just that.
In the aptly named Tyson, the only person who is being interviewed is the boxer himself. There is no one to challenge what he has to say, no other voice to dispute his supposed facts. It's just him, his voice, and you, the audience. He is constructing a nuanced self-portrait in front of your ears and eyes.
I know that the problem with this type of storytelling is that people can take things at face value and ignore the fact that it's merely a point of view. Case in point, when the film touches on his rape trial he adamantly denies that he in fact raped 18 year old Desiree Washington, and he does so all too convincingly. The problem is, he may truly and honestly think he didn't rape her, but that doesn't change the fact that she could have been raped by him anyway. If Mike Tyson had more insight on this issue, he might have entertained the idea that he perhaps was not invested in Washington's desires and so he could have been blind to the rejection he was receiving from her. Honestly though, I think even that gives him more credit than he deserves. He could also be lying, both to us and maybe even to himself.
Tyson's problem is that he didn't care to think that there could be another narrative besides his own. His narrative, to him, is truth. This parallels the problem of how some people take in documentaries without any critical thinking about alternative narratives. But the problem then isn't that some documentary narratives are too one-sided, but that some audiences are not open enough to other possibilities beside the one laid out plainly before them.
All in all, Tyson made me understand the man better and that makes it a powerful and successful film. I am disgusted by him and frankly afraid of him, but I see him as a fellow human being--flaws and all. Some people hold issue with showing perpetrators sympathy and I understand that, especially if you were once victimized by one or stand in solidarity with someone who was. But documentaries like this--one that shows how a man perceives himself--makes me more open and understanding, and reminds me that everyone, including a "bad" person, has their own story to tell.
For a more nuanced analysis of the film, check out this review I wrote back when it came out: Voices fighting each other: James Toback's Tyson. To see for yourself, you can rent or buy the film on Amazon.