Truth to Power does not avoid the many controversies sparked by Tankian and the subsequent tensions they created within the band. A free performance intended to promote the release of a new record led to a small riot. Two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Tankian’s political comments led to a backlash culminating in Clear Channel stations not playing System of a Down songs. In addition to the controversies, Tankian’s indefatigable activism irritated his band members. When drummer John Dolmayan admits that “Serj is a stubborn guy,” the viewer senses tensions ran deep amongst the other band members. There are both business and personal risks involved in being in a band with an outspoken lead singer. You constantly run the risk of losing segments of your audience that do not share your singer’s politics, or you might receive death threats.
“…masterfully combines the personal with the political…”
The last third of Truth to Power focuses on the frontman’s post-System life. Tankian is an eternal seeker of different avenues of artistic expression. He records solo records, composes symphonic music, grew an interest in jazz, gets involved in theater, and begins painting. His activism becomes focused on exposing Armenian corruption and support for Armenian opposition groups. He lends his name to protest and civil disobedience movements that earn him accusations by some within Armenia of being a foreign spy. Much can be said both in favor and against Tankian.
What is undeniable is his courage in confronting abuses of power and his unabashed pride in being Armenian. In the past, artists such as Cher have not been too vocal in declaring their Armenian heritage. Tankian never allowed his image to blend into an American melting pot. This is what Garin Hovannisian captures so beautifully throughout Truth to Power. One wonders if Tankian’s activism, his love for Armenia, and his constant pursuit of new career projects will eventually coalesce and lead him in the direction of political office in Armenia.
"…Tankian is an eternal seeker of different avenues of artistic expression."