All In: The Fight for Democracy

 

starstarstarhalf

 


Among Western democracies, the United States is ranked last in electoral fairness – as revealed in this vital, Oscar-tipped exposé.

 

All In: The Fight for Democracy

 

What continually emerges from the United States of America never ceases to shock. Let’s take the story of Maceo Snipes. Having fought for two years in the Pacific during the Second World War, Snipes was honourably discharged and returned to Taylor County in Georgia. A year later, in 1946, he voted in the Georgia Democratic primary – the only African-American to do so. A few days later, a firing squad turned up at his front door, invited him on to his porch and executed him. His body was buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which remains unknown.

 

Today, matters would seem to be better, albeit far from perfect. When Barack Obama’s high-profile run for the presidency prompted fifty million more Americans to cast their ballots, it acted as a magnet for future voter suppression. Even in 2020, thirty-five states exercised so-called voter ID laws which thwarted the rights of 10% of the electorate. In the old South, if your mother was black, she was unable to give birth to you in a white hospital – and therefore you were denied the right to a birth certificate. And today, in those 35 states, if you don’t have a birth certificate you cannot vote.

 

In Georgia, 1.4 million citizens were “purged” from the electorate between 2012 and 2018 by the Secretary of State Brian Kemp. And, during the single largest one-day purge in American history, he had 107,000 voters removed from the register for “having voted too infrequently” – leading to his claustrophobically narrow victory to become state governor. He won by just 50,000 votes, beating the African-American Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams. Had Stacey Abrams won, she would have become the first female African-American to take up the post of governor. However, more than 53,000 voter registration applications had been put on hold by Kemp's office, with more than 75% belonging to minorities. Not ironically, Kemp has revelled in his image as an opponent of political correctness, brandishing his intolerance like a badge of honour.

 

Stacey Abrams remembers the day when, having graduated as valedictorian at Avondale High School, she was invited to the governor’s mansion in Atlanta, only to be turned away by the guard who told her that she didn’t belong there – without even consulting the guest list in his hand.

 

Many such stories are recounted in Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés’ passionate, articulate and incendiary documentary, as important a film record as we are likely to encounter this year. Indeed, it is a front-runner for an Oscar for best documentary feature of 2020. Nonetheless, it is by no means a perfect film. Quite why interviewees are encouraged to talk at right-angles to the camera is a mystery, a baffling quirk that undermines the content of what they are saying. Another major irritant is the conflict of on-screen written statements with the voice-over, both vying for the viewer’s attention. Even dyslexia-free viewers will find the clash of material confounding. And the persistent, melodramatic score is yet another detraction. The eloquence of such contributors as the historian and academic Carol Anderson (a major asset), and the horrors of the unfolding data, do not need additional tricks to push home the injustice of the current voting system in the US, a structure that still denies the rights of students and Native Americans.

 

Incidentally, an unsung moment takes place at the Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama, where, delivering a keynote speech in May of 2020, Stacey Abrams welcomes the presence of her parents in the congregation. Behind her, a white-haired gentleman is the first to jump to his feet to acknowledge their presence, a sprightly figure now ensconced in the Oval Office.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Featuring  Stacey Abrams, Carol Anderson, Andrew Young, Eric Holder, Luci Baines Johnson, Debo Adegbile, Ari Berman, Gabourey Sidibe, Gloria Steinem, Constance Wu.

 

Dir Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés, Pro Liz Garbus, Lisa Cortés, Stacey Abrams and Dan Cogan, Screenplay Jack Youngelson, Ph Wolfgang Held, Ed Nancy Novack, Music Gil Talmi and Meshell Ndegeocello.

 

Story Syndicate-Amazon Media.

102 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 18 September 2020. Cert. 12.