(PG-13) ** out of **** (Two Out of Four Stars)
Arguably the highest profile and most controversial U.S. mid-term race of the last quarter-century, the 2018 election to choose the 83rd governor of Georgia provides the basis for the new documentary All In: the Fight for Democracy [AITFFD].
Taking a full 10 days after the election to determine a victor, Republican (and then sitting Georgia Secretary of State) Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia state representative by a margin of roughly 55,000 votes. Although never officially conceding, Abrams eventually held a press conference stating she understood Kemp would become the state's next governor and would not pursue any further challenges to the official results.
In the aftermath, Abrams became a rock star for her party and provided the rebuttal to the 2019 presidential State of the Union address. For a short while in 2020, Abrams was also on the short list of possible vice presidential candidates for Joe Biden in the upcoming presidential election which was ultimately offered to and accepted by California Sen. Kamala Harris. To date, Abrams has not made public any intentions to seek any other elected office.
Co-directed by first-timer Lisa Cortes and double Oscar-winner Liz Garbus, AITFFD has everything you might expect to find in a modern-day, high-end documentary and it succeeds quite well from a narrative perspective. It gets from point A to point B in a precise, methodical manner and is very assured with its message and delivery. As JUST a movie, it achieves its mission.
It wouldn't be going out on a limb to state that news, information, propaganda, entertainment and history are now an electronic mixing of blurred lines and combined messaging. From the 1960 presidential election to the present, politicians, their handlers and adroit media types have combined to make politics, if not outright sexy, at the least captivating to audiences – both friend and foe. Their collective job is to either reinforce or change minds.
Neither Abrams nor the filmmakers seem to want to appear remotely balanced with AITFFD, but rather to galvanize the already initiated and, again, they do so quite well. They take the 2018 Georgia election, go back in time some 250 years and present instances of voter oppression, but do so with an inordinate level of cherry-picking key facts and the blindingly obtuse omission of one common thread.
Apart from the (admittedly engaging) parallel story of Abrams' upbringing, every event explored in the movie has been covered better in other previous documentaries. Given the film's under-30, left-leaning target audience – this isn't necessarily a bad idea. It's probably better to somewhat educate the unenlightened with a Cliff's Notes movie than allow them to keep wandering around in the dark.
You know something is afoul early on when a group drawing including Abraham Lincoln is shown but his name is never uttered. This is odd as it was Lincoln who put his presidency on the line to pass the 13th Amendment – which abolished slavery. With the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments, African Americans were given the right to vote and in a short period of time, voter participation shot up to 67%.
Fearing the Black vote would eventually lead to their demise, white southern Democratic politicians instituted the "Jim Crow" laws in the 1870s which remained on the books for nearly 100 years. In that space of time, President Woodrow Wilson (D) reignited the Ku Klux Klan and suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony spent decades trying to secure the women's vote. It wasn't until California Sen. Aaron A. Sargent sponsored a bill which eventually led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Like Lincoln, Sargent's name is never mentioned in the film and the same can be said for Everett Dirksen, the Illinois senator would came to the aid of President Lyndon Johnson (D) in 1964 and 1968 to pass the landmark Civil Rights Act when those in his own party refused to get on board with his legislation.
Could it be these men's names aren't ever mentioned because they were all Republicans? In almost every instance examined in the film, it was the efforts from Republicans which made voting for women and minorities easier with Democrats attempting to thwart their efforts every step of the way.
The movie culminates with the Abrams/Kemp race and, like any good prosecuting attorney with no concrete evidence, the filmmakers present a case full of innuendo and speculation yet is devoid of any provable facts. It all makes for great theater, but not a lick of it is true.
Presenting the effects while distorting or flat-out ignoring the causes in a documentary where transparency is everything is misleading and irresponsible. Despite her perpetual arguments and finger-wagging, Abrams lost fair and square. She should stop making excuses and just move on.
AITFFD is currently playing in select theaters and will soon be available on Amazon Prime.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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