Netflix’s ‘How to Become a Tyrant’ Offers Viewers the Dictator Playbook

How to Become a Tyrant on Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

How to Become a Tyrant starts on Netflix July 9. The docuseries has six episodes, each one looking at a brutal dictator in 20th century world history, how they became one, and how they stayed one. Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Idi Amin and North Korea’s Kim dynasty are among those featured. 

Peter Dinklage, who played Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones, narrates. 

Jonah Bekhor and Jonas Bell Pasht are executive producers. 

“The goal of the show isn’t actually to teach people to be tyrants, despots and dictators, but it is structured like a how-to manual,” said Bell Pasht. 

Bell Pasht mentioned the “slow creep to authoritarian impulses” around the planet the last few years, and called the series “a really provocative new way to explore the subject matter.”

The producers say all the despots followed essentially the same playbook. Bekhor called How to Become a Tyrant “an interesting way to entertain and demystify and reach people with what we felt is a really important message.”

He mentions the general public at times being complicit in a dictator rising to power. 

The narrator is a “signature element of the show,” according to Bell Pasht, and the man who played Tyrion is perfect for the role. Tyrion “whispered the secrets of power to would-be tyrants,” said Bell Pasht. 

Dinklage was a yes from the get-go. “He just sparked to it right away,” said Bekhor

Bekhor and Bell Pasht are behind production company Citizen Jones. Their credits include The Redemption Project with Van Jones on CNN, T-Pain’s School of Business on Fuse and How to Build … Everything on Science. 

The producers use stylish animation instead of the typical staid recreations used in other projects dealing with history. Those can get cheesy, said the producers. “Now matter how good the recreations are, you never totally get into the actor in the Hitler moustache,” said Bell Pasht. 

Each episode features a different despot, and is essentially a chapter in the playbook of how these men come to immeasurable power. Episode titles include “Seize Power,” “Crush Your Rivals” and “Reign Through Terror.” Every episode features “one tyrant who best embodied, best followed the chapter of that playbook,” said Bell Pasht. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.