If what happened in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, took you completely by surprise, then you’re overdue to watch Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus’ powerful (and AWFJ EDA Award-winning!) documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy. As the film makes abundantly clear through compelling interviews and extensive documentation, the horrifying acts of domestic terrorism that took over our computer and TV screens a few days ago are the direct result of the United States’ legacy of racism and voter suppression.
All you need to do is look at the history of (dis)enfranchisement and leadership in this country to see the thread that connects the events of this week with 1776 — and not in a patriotic, we-love-the-Founding-Fathers kind of way. All In unspools that history in a clear, well-documented fashion that’s likely to leave you both outraged and inspired. From the United States’ earliest days up through the 2020 presidential primaries, it details how many of those in power have gone to extreme lengths to make it difficult to impossible for huge swaths of the American population to vote. Gerrymandering, poll taxes, literacy tests, voting machine shortages, polling location closures: It’s all about keeping elections in the hands of those who consider themselves the “real” Americans — i.e. conservative White men.
In other words, the United States has never truly been a democracy, because it has never fully supported voting rights for all of its citizens. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the future. By focusing specifically on Stacey Abrams’ work and experiences in Georgia, All In reveals the path to true democracy — and, guess what? It works, but it’s hard. It means fighting as hard for down-ballot races as for the presidency. It means knocking on doors and making sure people are registered to vote — and then going back and making sure they actually do it. It means passing laws to protect voting rights and filing lawsuits against those who try to get around those laws. It means counting every vote, every time.
If watching All In makes you mad, good. Take that anger and put it to use. Join a grassroots organization in your area. Learn how to phonebank. Run for office! Whatever you do, don’t give up, because the U.S. can turn things around if its people work together in the name of equality, inclusion, and, yes, democracy.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nell Minow: All In is a terrifying but ultimately optimistic reminder that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It is a love letter to the power of the vote, and the power of individuals dedicated to justice and democracy.
Pam Grady: Fascinating, infuriating, and, at times, uplifting, All In: The Fight for Democracy is a documentary that runs on two tracks: At once a history of the American vote and voter suppression, particularly of the African American community, it also spins the tale of Stacey Abrams, former member of Georgia’s House of Representatives, ex-gubernatorial candidate (whose campaign was doomed by voter suppression), and voting rights activist. Historian Carol Anderson is among the strongest voices that takes the viewer on a tour of the twists and turns of citizen enfranchisement in the United States. Abrams, whose activism as an undergraduate at Spelman College led to an invitation to speak at the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington when she was only 19, is the beating heart of the film, engaged and engaging. If Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus’ documentary has a flaw, it is that in light of Georgia turning blue on Jan. 5, All In is screaming for a new, triumphant coda.
Leslie Combemale Whether left or right-leaning, for anyone that feels the last four years have been a political and cultural nightmare, All In: the Fight for Democracy will have them bouncing back and forth between nostalgia and rage. Lefties might be trying to put the night Obama won his election out of mind, for fear of dissolving into tears, but it’s captured, in all its joy. Those on the right will pine for the ‘compassionate conservatism’ of Reagan, shown, along with Ford, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama, actually considering (and giving a damn about) the will of the people. The rage will come when viewers see just how insidiously opponents to voting rights continue to find ways to keep Black and Brown voters away from the polls. An education essential for anyone who values true democracy, this documentary demonstrates why everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should fight to make sure every voting-age American can exercise their right.
Nikki Baughan: Insightful, measured and shockingly eye-opening, Liza Cortes and Liz Garbus’ excellent documentary takes on a visceral sense of urgency following the terrorist attacks on the US Capitol, and the ongoing attempts to undermine the 2020 presidential election. Through the experiences of leading Georgia politician and activist Stacey Abrams, who lost the state’s gubernatorial election in 2018 due to a litany of underhand electoral practices, the film shows how voter suppression has been weaponized as a tool by right wing political forces. From that starting point, Cortes and Garbus explore this history of America’s voter registration system, and particularly how it serves minority communities. The resulting picture is an nightmarish collage of abuses — from impossible literacy tests and poll taxes to the closing of polling stations in deprived areas — which have insidiously stripped away the right to vote from African American, Latinx and other non-white groups. It’s a film which should leave you appalled, enraged and with a burning desire to right the wrongs of a historically corrupt system.
Loren King Although it is a valuable educational film, All In is far more than that. It’s a powerful testament to persistence and the unshakable belief in the one person/one vote cornerstone of democracy. That makes it not just informative, but engaging and inspiring. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin In light of this past week’s harrowing news events, we are selecting All In: The Fight for Democracy as our Movie of the Week. Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus’ documentary about Stacey Abrams and the suppression of voters’ rights was released last September, but it is particularly timely and relevant as a lesson in democracy and an extremely enlightening wake up call to those who remain in the dark about how government by and for the people is supposed to function. All In: The Fight for Democracy tied for the AWFJ 2020 EDA Award for Best Documentary, so this important and informative film already has the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ endorsement. If you’ve already seen the film, it’s time for a refresher viewing, especially in light of our nation’s current fight to preserve the principles of our government by and for the people, and our democratic way of life.
Sandie Angulo Chen: If ever we needed a reminder of the importance of counting every vote, it’s right now. Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés’s powerful documentary about the history of voter suppression in the United States is the history lesson we all need. The real pressing issue in American elections isn’t voter fraud but voter suppression. The filmmakers highlight how Stacey Abrams has used the time since her narrow 2018 gubernatorial loss to strengthen access to the polls in Georgia (many have credited her efforts as one of the many reasons the State just elected two Democratic senators). But the documentary doesn’t just stop with Stacey and Georgia; it explains how for centuries “we the people” hasn’t included “all” the people and why. It’s frightening how out of touch with U.S. history many Americans are, and this documentary should be required viewing in classrooms.
Liz Whittemore Directors Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus have presented audiences with a history lesson in a non-preachy, inspirational way. The immediate relevance of this film is palpable as our democracy is literally on the brink. It’s a doc that needs to be shown in every history class. It’s a doc that needs to be streamed to the country on loop, right now. Read full review.
Kathia Woods Stacey Abrams lost a keenly contested gubernatorial race for Governor of Georgia. She could have withdrawn from public life but instead made it her mission to assist more Georgians in voting. In All In: The Fight for Democracy Abrams gives the public a front-row seat at the obstacle’s minorities face in exercising their birth-given right. The Republican-controlled legislature and Governor have made it more challenging in this case for Black people to vote. Fewer precincts to voter ids are all tactics that began in the 1960’s. Stacey Abrams is a hero to many, but she’s also human, and this plan has been in the works for ten years. She’s been passionate about politics since she was a young college student. All In: The Fight for Democracy is a modern-day lesson about democracy and voters’ rights that every American needs to watch. It’s also a movement that proved last Tuesday that every vote does matter.
MaryAnn Johanson When I reviewed All In back in October — that is, before November’s US presidential election — I noted that not only is this a brilliant history of voter suppression in America but that it was also “a primer on what Americans can do right now, in this vitally important election year, to ensure that our voices are heard. Because literally the future of the nation and the planet depends on what happens in the next few weeks.” That was more immediately prescient than I could have imagined. Stacey Abrams’s efforts to get out the vote in Georgia led to the unusually close senatorial results, necessitating a runoff election that resulted in flipping the Senate to the Democrats, which was, it would seem, the last straw for Donald Trump, underscoring his own election loss and enraging him to the point where he would egg on a seditious mob to storm the Capitol and stop the electoral confirmation of Joe Biden as the next American president. I have no doubt that Trump would have found any excuse to do what he did, but Georgia must have been a profound slap in the face to him. Abrams’s campaign proved that Georgia, long considered a lock for the Republicans, has not been a “red” state but a voter-suppressed state. This realization has the potential to ripple across longtime Republican-stronghold states and shape the future of the United States in the near term and far into the future. But only if other activists — and there are Abramses in every state — take up her mantel. Here is the blueprint. Read full review.
Cate Marquis The recent run-off election in Georgia has thrown a spotlight on that state, and brings to mind an earlier close election there, when Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the race for governor to Brian Kemp, then Georgia’s secretary of state. Abrams refused to concede, citing extensive voter suppression in an election that her opponent oversaw. While Abrams is a featured speaker, the excellent documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, is about more than one political contest, offering a fascinating and timely history of voting and voter suppression, full of intriguing facts and pithy observations. If there is an must-see doc of the moment, this is it.
Title: All In: The Fight for Democracy
Directors: Lisa Cortes, Liz Garbus
Release Date: September 18, 2020
Running Time: 102 minutes
Screenwriter: Jack Youngelson (Documentary)
Distribution Company: Amazon Studios
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods
Edited by Jennifer Merin