Totally Under Control is exactly as infuriating and terrifying as you might expect. Directed by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunya, and Suzanne Hillinger, this documentary—which released today for rent or purchase on-demand, and will be streaming on Hulu on October 20—is essentially a collection of the many ways the government failed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, according to the many people interviewed in the film—such as Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority—it was more than just a failure. It was a deliberate mishandling intended to save face.
Using a specially designed camera that was sent to the homes of interviewees for remote filming, Gibney and his co-directors spoke to over a dozen experts, officials, and government employees who sounded the coronavirus alarm as early as January 2020. But the star of the show is Bright, a top scientist who says he was removed from his position as the director of BARDA (which is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office responsible for the development of countermeasures against pandemics) after he objected to President Donald Trump’s so-called “COVID miracle drug.”
Though there is no evidence to suggest that hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, is effective in treating COVID-19, Bright says his team was told in April to push the drug to pharmacies for off-label use. And Gibney has copies of the emails to back Bright’s statements up.
“I woke up to an email string that had our assistant secretary of health; our director of FEMA; our ASPR, Dr. Kadlec; and the FDA all saying, ‘We need to flood the streets of New York and New Jersey with that drug, as quickly as possible.’ Someone was brave enough to say, ‘But wait a minute, the EUA says: for hospitalized
It was the final straw for Bright, whose 25-year career in immunology and vaccine research includes positions at the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. “I lost all respect for that chain of command, for that security that we as Americans have put in those people. That is the moment I decided to break protocol and alert Americans in a different way.”
In April, Bright went to the press to publicly push back against the drug. Two weeks later, he learned he had been removed from his position as the director of BARDA. “It’s not easy to come forward in this administration, OK?” Bright tells the camera, his voice quavering with emotion. “I’m not trying to be softened here, but it’s not easy. It was a very hard process to lay our careers
In May, Bright filed a whistleblower complaint claiming his early warnings about the virus had been ignored—which, according to the film, came as early as January when his request for money for a coronavirus vaccine were ignored—and that his demotion had been retaliatory. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel found “reasonable grounds to believe” the Trump administration had unlawfully retaliated against Bright, and recommended he be reinstated as director, but he wasn’t. The president called Bright “an angry, disgruntled employee.”
Just last week, Bright resigned from his current government position at the National Institute of Health, saying he had been sidelined. “I long to serve the American people by using my skills to fight this pandemic,” he wrote on Sept. 25 to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the institutes, according to a report from the New York Times. “The taxpayers who pay my salary deserve no less.”