Not all superheroes wear capes. It's overused, perhaps, but that catchphrase popped into my head early on watching Netizens, Cynthia Lowen's incisive documentary. It focuses on three extremely compelling subjects, including queer YouTuber Anita Sarkeesian, each of whom has demonstrated enormous strength in the face of horrific obstacles. Sarkeesian endured a mountain of disgusting and frightening online vitriol for daring to call out sexism in video games; attorney Carrie Goldberg became the expert she needed to face off against a vengeful ex in court, and now helps victims of online harassment and sexual abuse with a growing practice in Brooklyn Heights; and Tina Reine suffered devastating professional fallout after an ex-boyfriend launched a website "exposing" her past as an escort.
Lowen followed her subjects long enough for some exciting (and occasionally disheartening) developments in their stories, and she lets their personalities and experiences come through easily, with a minimum of editorial commentary. Sarkeesian is frank and funny as she unearths old diaries and notebooks that lay the groundwork for her YouTube channel. Goldberg is unflappable whether she's opening a "tainted" box of belongings from her year of online torment or gleefully selecting scratch and sniff wallpaper for her office. Reine is perhaps the most openly emotional as she shares memories of her late brother, painful childhood surgeries, and the scores of lost jobs her ex cost her, but she also demonstrates a steely resolve. All of the women come alive onscreen in all of their idiosyncratic and loveable glory. By the end of Lowen's well photographed and wonderfully scored Composer: Kevin O'Connor film, we feel like we know them—and we know we admire them. It's a stunning documentary that puts a human face on a troubling twenty-first century phenomenon.