With the 2020 Presidential Election less than two months away during the publishing of this piece, the United States’ political atmosphere is the most tumultuous it’s ever been. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, a recession that’s teetering on the edge of a depression, and the state of democracy is more fragile than ever. In living in these “unprecedented” times, film and television have served a grand purpose: To entertain, inform, and even mobilize audiences across the globe.
While escapism is welcome and often necessary in this day and age, sometimes visual media needs to be a defiant call to action. All In: The Fight For Democracy is perhaps the most defiant and urgent film this year. Originally slated to debut at Telluride, Liz Garbus‘ and Lisa Cortés‘ documentary will hit screens nationwide on September 9th before it launches on Amazon Prime on the 18th, mere days before National Voter Registration Day (September 22nd). It’s apparent from the timing that All In: The Fight for Democracy not only seeks to call audiences to vote, it also has a plan to help influence this year’s election, which is possibly the most crucial in modern history.
Voting rights activist, lawyer, author, and 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams headlines All In: The Fight For Democracy. The film chronicles Abrams’ fight for the Georgia governor seat, which is used as a segue into the rampant voter suppression that has occurred in the United States. After narrowly losing the seat to former Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Abrams has continued to use her platform to combat voter suppression. The documentary uses the race between Abrams and Kemp as a cautionary tale, warning viewers of what can happen (again) on a national scale if this continues.
All In employs the voices of civil rights leaders such as Andrew Young, academics such as Carol Anderson, lawyers such as Eric Young, and numerous activists. Each adds their experiences and expertise, allowing the documentary to provide an extremely comprehensive and educational look at voting rights in the United States.
Tracing the steps of voting rights, the documentary goes back to America’s inception and the flawed premise of “All men are created equal.” Traveling as far back as the 1800s, Liz Garbus’ and Lisa Cortés’ film documents the many instances of voter suppression, and its constantly evolving nature. Narrowly finishing production earlier this year, All In: The Fight For Democracy even mentions the repercussions of the Coronavirus. Namely, the virus’ devastating effect on state-wide primary elections, and the ongoing debate about mail-in ballots.
Even though the 2020 election maintains a sinister omnipresence throughout, All In focuses on American history, and how our democracy has been primarily tainted by racism. The film unboxes some disheartening truths: Any sort of progress is met with intense opposition and often periods of regression. Following the Reconstruction era (1865-1877), there was a dark period in history signified by the rise of Jim Crow laws as well as the “Black Codes.” As the Cold War neared, only three percent of Black adults were registered to vote in the South. It’s a frightening and extremely embarrassing statistic that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
From poll taxes to literacy tests, from gerrymandering to strict I.D. laws, All In effectively goes down the line of all the ways America’s citizens have been hindered from voting. Although the United States has branded itself as the leader of the Free World, why is it still so difficult to vote to this day? Since 1776, there’s always been a struggle for power in America. Stacey Abrams gives an eloquent answer:
When elected officials feel that they may not have power the power anymore, they have two choices: They can either be more responsive to those they lead, or they can eliminate the people they have to answer to.
While All In: The Fight for Democracy can be somber and downright discouraging at times, it does conclude with a message of hope. It reminds us that there’s still hope for America and that we need to do our best to exercise our right to vote. We have the power to change the course of history.