Overview: The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the words that built this country. Written by America’s founding fathers, they provide a blueprint for our democracy.
Celebrating Independence Day, and narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough (John Adams), The Words That Built America is an unabridged reading of the authentic words of our founding fathers. Director-producer Alexandra Pelosi brings together more than 100 readers, including all the living presidents and vice presidents, as well as Supreme Court justices, Cabinet secretaries and the leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, along with a wide array of celebrities, leading media figures and young people to read these iconic documents.
Expectations: Instead of watching this live and reviewing it after the fact I thought I’d give you a heads up before it premieres on 07.04.17 at 7:00pm ET. What can I say? I expect a rather dry reading of some of this documents, but when was the last time you read or heard these important words in their entirety? Yeah, that’s what I thought, in Civics class in Jr. High/Middle School.
Gut Reaction: Excuse me while I wax patriotic here. I don’t give a darn about anyone’s political affiliation; we all need to hear these words. In fact, I think it should be mandatory. Again, besides pleading the fifth from time to time do you know these documents at all? Even if you don’t believe entirely what they say you have to acknowledge the purpose behind them – to build a strong country.
Yes, they might be a little dry to hear recited, but if you lose interest then perhaps you could spend time figuring out who all the reciters are in the piece. However, I am going to eliminate that from happening by listing them below.
The Declaration of Independence is recited by Kevin Bacon, Jack Black, Tucker Carlson, Common, Anderson Cooper, Bryan Cranston, Robert De Niro, Laura Dern, Robert Duvall, America Ferrera, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hannity, Neil Patrick Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Caitlyn Jenner, Dwayne Johnson, Toby Keith, Megyn Kelly, Kid Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Yo-Yo Ma, Peggy Noonan, Rosie O’Donnell, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Vince Vaughn, Kerry Washington, Fareed Zakaria.
Speaking the words of The U.S. Constitution are Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama & Donald Trump; Vice Presidents Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Walter Mondale, Mike Pence & Dan Quayle; Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts; U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander, Tammy Baldwin, John Barrasso, Roy Blunt, John Boozman, Shelley Moore Capito, Ben Cardin, Tom Carper, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Ted Cruz, Tammy Duckworth, Dick Durbin, Deb Fischer, Jeff Flake, Al Franken, Cory Gardner, Kirsten Gillibrand, Lindsey Graham, Charles Grassley, Kamala Harris, John Hoeven, Tim Kaine, Angus King, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy, Ed Markey, Catherine Cortez Masto, John McCain, Claire McCaskill, Mitch McConnell, Chris Murphy, Patty Murray, Rob Portman, Jack Reed, Pat Roberts, Chuck Schumer, Tim Scott, Richard Shelby, Debbie Stabenow, Luther Strange, Jon Tester, John Thune, Chris Van Hollen, Mark Warner, Elizabeth Warren, Roger Wicker, Ron Wyden & Todd Young; Congressmen and Congresswomen Joaquin Castro, Joe Crowley, Joe Kennedy, John Lewis, Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Paul Ryan, Eric Swalwell & Maxine Waters. Governors Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, John Hickenlooper, John Kasich, Terry McAuliffe & Brian Sandoval; Cabinet Secretaries Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice & Donald Rumsfeld and Ambassador Nikki Haley.
On The Bill of Rights you will hear middle-school students from the United Nations International School.
Bonus: I pull quotes now from Biography from the director, Alexandra Pelosi, who makes this her eleventh documentary for HBO.
“There’s nothing American politicians today would ever agree on, except the Constitution. It’s the one thing they line up for. Sometimes I feel like we’re heading towards a civil war. If you watch enough cable news, you get the impression that America is dividing itself in half, but the one thing that we have left is the Constitution.”
“I feel like it’s really important for people to pay attention to the actual map that the forefathers set out for us as to how the game is played. Democracy’s fragile. You’ve got to give this country credit because we’ve kept it together all these years.”
“I couldn’t get anyone to read impeachment. No president or vice president would read the word impeachment, and then nobody wanted to read Emoluments. So there were tricky parts, but everybody got to read what they wanted to read. For example, Donald Trump chose to read the section about the opening of the executive branch. Then we had to patch everything together in the edit room, but we didn’t assign what they read.”
“It’s really hard to explain to people how much our elected officials have in common. It kind of contradicts what I said earlier about how they fight about everything. They fight about everything on cable news, but when I was filming this, I saw a real camaraderie and friendship, and I don’t think people see that. The one thing that was really refreshing for me personally in doing this project is seeing how they’re all really well-intentioned people that don’t agree with each other on things.”
“It’s more like a public service announcement. It’s not really a documentary. There’s no editorializing. There’s no documentary to it, you know? We kept saying, when we were making it, it’s not a documentary. It’s a document. We’re just filming people as a document. That’s it.”
In Conclusion: That’s the words I was hunting for and another reason why this post is not like a traditional document review around here. This film is a ‘public service announcement.’ And one that it won’t hurt the nation to see. HBO is making the work available on HBO.com and on YouTube for non-subscribers as well.
Hold your head up high and be proud to be an American and watch THE WORDS THAT BUILT AMERICA
Next: HBO has confirmed that THE DEFIANT ONES will debut SUNDAY, JULY 9 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT), with other new episodes debuting successive nights, July 10, 11 and 12, at the same time. We will review after all four installments have aired.
About The Author
Editor at Large of HBOWatch.com and the internet's foremost HBO expert.
HBOWatch is not affiliated with HBO. We're just big fans!
HBO is TM and copyright HBO 2017, a subsidiary of Time Warner Media. All rights reserved. All photos and videos are property of their respective artists and/or HBO.