In a time when “thoughts and prayers” are all that too many politicians can offer in the face of tragic mass shootings like the ones in Buffalo and Uvalde, Gabby Giffords’ tireless advocacy for smart gun control is more meaningful than ever — especially when you know that every word she says on the subject is a hard-fought victory over the lasting impact of the brain injuries she sustained when she was shot in the head in 2011.
Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s documentary Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down details Giffords’ recovery from the assassination attempt that almost killed her, as well as her time as a U.S. representative, her marriage to astronaut-turned-senator Mark Kelly, and her emergence as one of the United States’ leading voices in the fight to keep guns out of the hands of those who use them to harm others. The result is a powerful portrait of a truly remarkable woman.
According to the film, Giffords was a go-getter from day one — bright, friendly, motivated, and hardworking. Her passion for making a difference eventually led her to run for national office in 2006, becoming Arizona’s third-ever woman representative, and the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from that state. And while her promising political career was cut short by the bullet that nearly took her life, her spirit and drive have sustained her through a long, difficult rehabilitation and the next phase of her life and career.
Watching Giffords struggle to recover from her devastating injuries is heartbreaking, but her determination is inspiring, and her improvement over time (with lots of hard work) is nothing short of astonishing. Her relationship with Kelly is also lovely to see — of course, you never know the truth of other people’s marriages, but theirs comes across as a beautifully loving and supportive partnership. Despite all of the obstacles they’ve faced, Gabby and Mark’s future looks full of possibility and the opportunity for systemic change, and that’s more meaningful than all the “thoughts and prayers” in the world.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nell Minow: It is uncomfortable to see the footage of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head, when it is not clear whether she will ever speak again. It feels intrusive, even exploitive to see her struggles in rehab. That is, until you see her at the end of the film, watching the same footage, laughing at how far she has come. This is a story of courage and determination, of a couple deeply in love and committed to making the world safer, fairer, and better.
Loren King No matter how much you think you know about Gabby Giffords, this moving film from directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West is eye-opening, urgent and revelatory. It traces how Giffords, a charismatic and impassioned moderate Arizona Congresswoman with a bright political future, was shot through the head while meeting with her constituents on a January morning in 2011. Giffords miraculously survived but eight others, including a nine year old girl, were killed in the assignation attempt. We get to witness Giffords’ determined, difficult battle to recover her speech and mobility. Read full review.
Pam Grady: Eleven years ago, a gunman invaded Democratic Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Gifford’s meet and greet with her constituents in a suburban Tucson parking lot. By the time he was done, 19 people were shot, six were dead, and Giffords was left with a life-altering gun shot wound. Given access to footage taken by Giffords’ husband, NASA astronaut (now US Senator) Mark Kelly, filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen have made a compelling documentary that charts Giffords’ recovery, her fight for sane gun laws, and the loving relationship between her and Kelly. It is a resonant film, one that reflects its subject’s optimism despite everything that’s happened to her, while championing her push for sane gun laws to ratchet down the violence that infects the United State. The documentary is essential viewing. Read full review.
Sherin Nicole Julie Cohen and Betsy West are progressively and quite artfully retelling the true-life stories of women who reshape the world and leave fingerprints. The attempted assassination and subsequent second rising of Gabby Giffords is another such legend. Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is a love story supported by Giffords husband, Mark Kelly, and we feel the pain, the frustration, and their hearts as she makes kintsugi out of a life that would’ve broken most beyond repair. While it is simply told without the flourishes that would enhance the journey, the film remains affecting throughout.
Leslie Combemale With co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, viewers can be assured, “here comes another powerful, strong, and largely unsung she-ro”, and Gabby Giffords: Wont Back Down is no exception. One thing all their subjects have in common is that they are vilified by some part of the population for making noise when those against them would rather they stay silent. When I saw and reviewed this film in March of 2022 there had already been a number of shooting deaths in the the US, but little did we know what we’d see between then and now. There have been so many deaths by gun violence since March, I had to go to the 10th page of the Gun Violence Archive to get the March listings. What makes this documentary essential viewing is it puts a face on one person impacted by the rampant number of mass shootings taking place in this country. This film is both terrifying and inspirational, and it is to Cohen and West’s credit that they are able to make a film about gun violence that is uplifting and galvanizing to its audience. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is the very inspiring documentary about the beloved (former) Arizona Congresswoman who was very nearly assassinated by a terrorist sniper whose bullet left her paralyzed and without speech, but who drew upon her extraordinary strength and determination to recover and to continue to work for justice and equality in American politics, government and the law. Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, renowned for profiling strong women, do a beautiful job of integrating archival footage and current on camera interviews to present Gifford’s luminous spirit and iron will. The film proves that its title is fully warranted and accurate. Gabby Gifford is a great leader who won’t back down, and her refusal to give up her activism will encourage others to take action, as well. This film is an important antidote to the despair we feel as our safety and freedoms seem to disappear before our eyes. We can all take a cue from Gabby Gifford and stand our ground.
Susan Wloszczyna: Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in the U.S. Congress. This gutsy gal survived an assassination attempt and would become a co-founder of Giffords.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing gun violence. The doc zeroes in on her grueling healing process, with her husband, Mark Kelly, the former Space Shuttle Commander — who is currently a junior U.S. senator from Arizona – by her side. We witness as Giffords also struggles with afacisia, the loss of the ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage. She must also wear a special cap to protect what is left of her skull. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore Julie Cohen and Betsy West have done it again. These two filmmakers shine a spotlight on extraordinary women in our history. Their latest film, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, is the film we need right now, right at this exact moment. Read full review.
Cate Marquis Told with a visually lively style, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is an uplifting, inspiring documentary about a woman who truly knows what it means to overcome: former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, who certainly won’t back down. Backed by a bouncy soundtrack (including that Tom Petty song), filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West focus less on the assassination attempt that nearly took Giffords’ life (although it is included) than on her career and life before the shooting, and detailing her amazing recovery from a brain injury that would have killed most and her positive, determined personality and, particularly, her refusal to back down from her life’s work, as she and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, now an Arizona senator, continue to fight for gun safety laws and other issues for a better world. With interviewees including President Barack Obama, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down gives us hope, with its inspirational, warm salute to an unstoppable woman.
Title: Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down
Directors: Julie Cohen and Betsy West
Release Date: July 15. 2022
Running Time: 95 minutes
Distribution Company: Briarcliff Entertainment
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin