The rousing new documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy” wraps an eloquent history lesson on voting rights in a boots-on-the-ground recap of the contentious 2018 Stacey Abrams-Brian Kemp Georgia gubernatorial tilt. Directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés, the film makes an ardent case to stay ever-vigilant against the ongoing threat to the electoral process.
For a democratic republic allegedly practicing representational democracy for better than 200 years, the U.S. has a fairly lousy record on voting. Starting with the inaugural presidential election of 1788-89 — open to 6% of the population (hello, land-owning white men) — through the Jim Crow era, the long road to women’s suffrage and countless other indignities heaped upon the citizenry, you almost get the impression that some people in power don’t want everyone to vote.
In addition to Abrams (also a producer on the film), who demonstrates why she became a rising political star in the Democratic party and a contender to be Joe Biden’s running mate, a number of familiar faces also hold court, including former Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and former U.N. ambassador and mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young, who recounts his work with Martin Luther King Jr. to press President Johnson on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (That the footage of the protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge never loses its power, no matter how often we see it, is a stark reminder of the battles won and those still being waged.)
Garbus (Oscar-nominated for “The Farm: Angola, USA” and “What Happened, Miss Simone?”) and Cortés also effectively use journalists, academics and think-tank pundits — from both the right and the left — to weave a historical journey that is simultaneously fascinating and maddening. The standout here being Emory University’s Carol Anderson, a professor of African American studies and the author of “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.” Anderson and the filmmakers bring the past alive — as in the tale of Maceo Snipes, a World War II veteran killed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1946 for exercising his right to vote only to have the shooter exonerated — with a passion and clarity that is riveting. Someone please give this woman her own documentary series.
Emory University professor Carol Anderson in “All In: The Fight for Democracy.”
Getting the right to vote is one thing, keeping that right is quite another. Poll closures, voter intimidation, purges, restrictive voter ID requirements and gerrymandering are all tools that have been used to suppress the vote and some were used in the Abrams-Kemp election. The film emphasizes that these tactics are most frequently used to disenfranchise voters of color, the young and the poor, and the only real remedy is voter turnout.
Following the bitter defeat two years ago, Abrams, the first female African American to be a major party’s nominee for governor, and her team chose to turn their attention to the preservation and expansion of voter rights and this documentary is an extension of that. Will Nov. 6, 2018, prove to be predictive of Nov. 3, 2020 — or will things be much worse?
Based on recent headlines — obstacles for Black voters in Wisconsin, courts ruling against voting rights for felons in Florida, the slowdown of the United States Postal Service — one has to wonder.
In September 2020, it can be a challenge to stay both sane and informed. The choice often comes down to escapism or despair. “All In” manages the triple-E feat of being entertaining, educational and enlightening. It can also be chastening but allows you to walk away chin-up and optimistic — a new Janelle Monáe song over the end credits helps — as opposed to feeling defeated and left cowering in a corner, and right now, that’s saying something.
‘All In: The Fight for Democracy’
Rated: PG-13 for some disturbing violent images, thematic material and strong language — all involving racism
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: Available Sept. 18 on Amazon Prime