Documentary Review: ‘Alpha Class’ Reveals the Politics and Pitfalls of Fraternity Life

Jessica Clifford
A&E Editor

A_E, 3_28, frat documentary, Jessica clifford, PC_ Courtesy of Joe Forte Jr_(1).jpg

Courtesy of Joe Forte Jr.

Drinking, partying, philanthropy, women and brotherhood – the special concoction of none other than the average campus fraternity. The documentary, “Alpha Class,” based on the recharging of Arizona State University’s (ASU) Phi Sigma Kappa, stereotypically shows just this, while also engaging in the politics behind two failed fraternities.

“Alpha Class,” digitally released by D-Mak Productions, was co-produced by Danny McManus and Joe Forte, Jr., and directed and narrated by McManus.

The documentary starts by interviewing a few pledges who originally rushed with Phi Kappa Psi and takes viewers through the original hazing process and the subsequent dismantling of the fraternity’s charter. Once the fraternity lost its charter, the movie shows a few of the pledges, known as the Alpha Class, deciding to recharter Phi Sigma Kappa at ASU. Following this is the rocky start and end of a second fraternity.

“Alpha Class” honestly depicts the lives of men with moxie, who seem to do everything in extreme proportions.

Early in the documentary, a reenactment shows the boot-camp style hazing strategies used to weed out the weak or undeserving pledges. Scenes reveal the torture of “hell week,” or the climactic end to pledging where men endure a series of gruesome or painful activities.

The documentary does not candy-coat the process either. Instead, it shows men eating a breakfast consisting of cereal, sauerkraut and mustard, while drinking their meal down with a mixture of oil, vinegar and a slice of bread. It also shows active fraternity members serving a hot, gravy-like substance down the pants of pledges before throwing each of them into a single plywood box.

“Alpha Class” does not hold much back, especially in its handling of women. Catcalls and other disparaging words are thrown at women, while one scene reveals full body shots of naked strippers and sexual acts performed. As mentioned by Forte, Jr., these scenes were actual footage of their experiences.

One gripe a viewer could make is the dismissal of a content warning before the film begins. A message to the viewer stating there is full nudity and vulgar language present in the film would take away the shock of these scenes.

While the portrayal is disturbing at times, it is also entertaining, by resembling the appeal of a reality television show. The documentary was also edited cohesively, which is obvious through the smooth transitions between scenes.

However, the movie does seem to dismiss an important aspect of Greek life: the everyday struggle of being a student, while being an active member of a fraternity. The only intermingling of non-active Greek life was present at the beginning of the documentary, which shows interviews of regular students and their opinions on fraternities.

“We were inspired to film this documentary to showcase the beginnings of our newly charter [sic] fraternity, however, what we ended up capturing is the downfall of a fraternity,” Forte, Jr. wrote, in an interview via email.

With this being the major theme of “Alpha Class,” it becomes clearer why viewers will not see the fraternity members in any other role.

Yet, as stated in a synopsis of the documentary, “Alpha Class” does reveal the underlying politics of how fraternities are sustained.

“I hope people walk away understanding a little more about how fraternities function and the challenges of leadership in a social organization. Also, to show how organizations can become dis functional [sic] and fall apart,” Forte, Jr. wrote.

For outsiders of Greek life, the movie identifies the organizational ranking found in a fraternity, by explaining the three levels: executive board, committee chairs and active brothers. The documentary randomly stops for a few seconds to display the definitions of common terms used in fraternities, such as balling, T-9, “hell week” and more.

The film also thoroughly shows dissent by younger active members who did not respect the Alpha Class, and eventually created a rift in the organizational structure. Though the film is about fraternities, it shows how easily any organization can collapse by a few members who disapprove of the leadership’s ideals.

It is no surprise that the gratuitous and stereotypical views of Greek life are shown in the film, but “Alpha Class” could also make a viewer think about the psychology of brotherhood and the cult-like mentality of being part of a fraternity.

While watching the early scenes of hazing and the later scenes where a few members of the Alpha Class were expelled, it becomes obvious how much desire each person had to find loyalty and camaraderie with others. All the men interviewed agreed with hazing procedures because it brought them closer together, while some, such as Forte, Jr. himself, agreed at the end that everyone will still be considered a brother to him because of their collective experience.

For those who want to learn more about fraternities, from the everyday life to the politics underlying them, then “Alpha Class” is a go-to documentary. It is currently available to stream for a small fee on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

Categories: A & E, Arts & Entertainment, Reviews

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