Producers: Liz Garbus, Lisa Cortés, Stacey Abrams and Dan Cogan Directors: Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés Screenplay: Jack Youngelson Cast: Stacey Abrams, Carolyn Abrams, Robert L. Abrams, Carol Anderson, Ari Berman, David Pepper, Sean J. Young, Lauren Groh-Wargo, O.J. & Barbara Semans, Kristen Clarke, Michael Waldman, Desmond Meade, Eric Holder, Marcia L. Fudge, Alejandra Gomez, Eric Foner, Debo Adegbile, Jayla Allen, Michael Parsons, Luci Baines Johnson, Frances Fox Piven, Andrew Young and Hans von Spakovsky Distributor: Amazon Studios
Over the last two decades, each presidential election year has seen the release of a bunch of feature-length political documentaries, most highly partisan, and 2020 is no exception. The most recent is “All In: The Fight For Democracy,” which wears its Democratic credentials proudly, one of its major emphases being the Georgia gubernatorial election of 2018, in which Stacey Abrams (a major commentator here) was defeated in a close vote by Brian Kemp, who as the Secretary of State actually directed the electoral process, which was marred by broken machines, long lines, and inaccurate voting rolls.
The film is an excoriation of efforts throughout U.S. history to limit the right to vote (or, more recently, the ability to exercise that right), the final third concentrating on what are described as voter suppression efforts that Republicans have spearheaded, especially since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
Part of the film is historical, providing an overview of regulations concerning voting from the country’s founding, which restricted the right to vote to white, male property-owners, to the present. Coverage is given to the extension of voting rights to black males after the Civil War, and to the success of the women’s suffrage movement in the early twentieth century. But these are coupled with segments dealing, for example, with the creation of Jim Crow laws in the South after Reconstruction, which effectively disenfranchised the vast majority of black voters. That is followed by coverage of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1963, pushed through Congress by Lyndon Johnson with prodding (via, among other things, the Selma march) by Martin Luther King, Jr..
It’s pointed out that in the mid-twentieth century, the issue was, on a national level, bi-partisan: it was Gerald Ford who signed an extension of the voting rights law that even expanded its scope.
But in recent years, the film argues, that situation has changed radically as Republicans, perceiving their electoral weakness as the country’s demographics change, have turned to various tactics of voter suppression. The results of extreme gerrymandering are considered, but the major emphasis is on the legislative efforts at the state level unleashed by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case of 2013. These include the push for voter identification requirements supposedly designed to inhibit voting fraud but actually—as even some Republican operatives have admitted—to suppress Democratic (and particularly minority) turnout. And the film brings the story down to Donald Trump’s denunciations of voting-by-mail as a purported vehicle for fraud—a claim widely derided as a hoax, to use the President’s own favorite locution.
The film’s argument is presented in stark, intense terms by Abrams and the small army of other commentators, political figures, activists, jurists and scholars enlisted to explain it in detail. (The opposing viewpoint is represented primarily by broadcast clips, notably from Fox News.)
With the new footage, mostly interviews, nicely shot by Wolfgang Held and seamlessly integrated with archival material and bits of Michal Czubak’s animation by editor (and co-producer) Nancy Novack, and accompanied by a propulsive score by Gil Talmi and Meshell Ndegeocello, “All In: The Fight for Democracy” is an effective presentation of its case as well as a ringing call to action (with instructions on voting offered alongside the closing credits), though it will find favor primarily with those who already agree with its message. It probably won’t reach the eyes and ears of those who don’t agree at all—and if it does, they’ll doubtlessly shrug it off as naïve in a political sport that has increasingly become a matter of destruction rather than principle.