Documentary Series Review

Bill Gates doccie comes close to being propaganda

Netflix series 'Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates' avoids probing too much providing little insight as to who the Microsoft founder really is

06 October 2019 - 00:00
Bill Gates is portrayed as a genius with a heart of gold in a new Netflix documentary series. (File photo.)
Bill Gates is portrayed as a genius with a heart of gold in a new Netflix documentary series. (File photo.)
Image: AFP Photo/Pascal Guyot

Bill Gates. The ubernerd who for years topped the list of the richest people in the world, stuck us with the Windows paperclip icon and then turned himself into the world's greatest philanthropist.

But who is he really? What drove him to become the man we know from newspapers and the internet? That's nominally the intention of Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim's three-part, three-hour Netflix series Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates.

With a greater level of access to the billionaire's private life than others have been granted - Gates playing tennis, reading voraciously on his think week retreat, eating burgers and playing poker with his friend and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett - you would think it would be easy for Guggenheim to achieve his goal.

Add in access to family members, colleagues and wife Melinda and it's theoretically a no-brainer that Guggenheim hits it out of the park and provides an intimate and complicated portrait of the man behind the headlines.

WATCH | The trailer for 'Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates'

However, what we're treated to over three hours is a horrible, cringeworthy hagiography that avoids probing too much, and hails its subject as a genius with a heart of gold whose era we should be lucky to be living through.

Each episode takes one of the global problems that Bill and Melinda are trying to solve and follows them through the process, whether that's sanitation and the search for a no-water, affordable toilet, the eradication of polio, or the controversial redesign of nuclear power plants.

Interwoven with these grand projects are details of Gates's biography and rise to success.

It's during these segments that a cast of increasingly breathless sycophants tell us how wonderful Bill is and how he reads more widely and deeply than anyone in human history, with superpowers of intuition and intelligence that make him no mere mortal.

Although some of the details of the workings of the couple's charitable foundation and even the workings of Bill's brain are not without interest, it all quickly becomes a little too much.

Either Gates is as dull as we think he is or Guggenheim is too much in the thrall of the foundation and its blessings for the project to interrogate too deeply anything Gates says or has done.

Even when questions are asked about the toll of Microsoft's anti-trust troubles or Gates's prickly relationship with his mother and his need of her approval, the answers are taken at face value and Guggenheim swiftly moves on to less difficult material.

It's not quite as terrible as watching a dictatorial state-sanctioned documentary about a glorious leader, but at times it veers uncomfortably close to that territory.

When future generations ask about Bill Gates and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the easy answers will be provided by this series. The tough questions, however, have yet to be asked and it seems that only someone outside the tent and without the sanction or even the participation of Gates will be in a position to offer better answers.

• 'Inside Bill's Brain' is available on Netflix.


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