Educational, well-argued, and engaging, All In: The Fight for Democracy is a vital documentary for our current times.
Documentary films, by and large, endeavour to show you something that has happened, and the same can be said of Amazon’s new voter suppression feature All In: The Fight for Democracy, directed by Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus. But now and again, as is the case here, they’ll show you something that has happened and that might very well happen again in the future – perhaps even the near future, such as, say, November 3, 2020.
The coming election, described as perhaps the most important in quite some time in certain quarters, is a looming presence throughout All In, a constant ticking-clock reminder that our ostensibly fair and democratic republic is deemed such largely by the most well-represented of its citizens, and not those among low-income neighbourhoods or from families of colour who have historically struggled to exercise the right to vote and feel as unrepresented by the system now as they ever have.
It’s easy to suggest that things are better now than they ever have been since the ways in which suppression occurs are more insidious. Now, they’re wrapped up in other, more topical issues of fraud and outside influence and presented as if they’re a necessary precaution for everyone, even though the ultimate outcome is as exclusionary as ever and no different in function to the unpassable literary tests and taxes that have prohibited the same people from exercising their rights in the past. Disenfranchisement and political apathy are always written off by those best-served by the current system in its current form.
Stacey Abrams is not one of those people, and the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate – the first Black woman to run for governor in either party – is well-served by this strong lesson in ethics and political history, which uses her upbringing, education and political career as a framework for its case against voter suppression. Brian Kemp, who Abrams eventually lost to by a scant 50,000 votes, held 53,000 mostly minority voter registrations prior to the Election Day.
All In: The Fight for Democracy is not specifically about this, as it could have been, but about how history has continued to repeat itself and might continue unabated even still. Scholarly experts are wheeled out to trace the history of America’s supposed democracy from the Founding Fathers on, through various Amendment pit stops that finally granted the vote to not just White property owners but also Black men and, eventually, women. The theme quickly becomes that a step forward almost always precedes two back and that for every important Amendment there is always a way – or several – to circumvent it. Progress is performative.
This is also what’s most terrifying about the case that All In argues since it’s drawing explicit parallels between the past and present, and suggesting what they might mean for the future – and it isn’t anything good. The increasing camouflaging of the same age-old voter restrictions in newer, seemingly more palatable laws suggests that far from prejudice becoming less prevalent it’s just becoming more sophisticated. Abrams is a useful guide through all this, since her personal experiences – including being denied the same audience with the governor of Georgia that all valedictorians received on the strength of a racist stereotype – relate directly to the kind of dangerous misconceptions integral to the logic of voter suppression in the first place.
Making this material personal – and often surprisingly good-humoured – is what elevates All In: The Fight for Democracy to the level of not just an engaging, well-argued documentary, but a valuable lesson on voting rights that is as important now, quite literally, as it has ever been.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.