“History is never a straight line. It’s always a fight.” — Mike Waldman, Brennan Center for Justice
All In: The Fight for Democracy comes out in this crucial moment of our nation’s history: a pandemic rages, civil rights are forefront in the minds of most Americans, and a majority of us are concerned about the damage done to the post office and how that might affect mail-in voting. If there’s a perfect time for a documentary about the continuous struggle for voting rights in America (which also weaves in Stacey Abrams’ political journey), it’s most likely now.
Directors Lisa Cortes (The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion) and Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?) assemble expert scholars, politicians, lawyers, and think-tank talking heads to provide a history of voter suppression and the struggle for voting rights in the U.S. The storytelling structure is familiar: news clips and photos — sometimes even animation — illustrate the words by the experts as they go through eras of progress and disenfranchisement for women and people of color in America.
An appearance by the parents of Stacey Abrams brings some warmth to the film, even as they recall her shoddy treatment by a former Georgia governor’s security guard. There isn’t as much time spent on Stacey Abrams as I hoped; her gubernatorial campaign is primarily used as an example of how voter suppression can affect election results.
The documentary is ultimately geared towards a viewer new to the issue of voting rights. Watching as a film critic who tries to stay on top of news of voter suppression and intimidation, there isn’t much new information here. Indeed, I marveled at the decision to give no mention to Kris Kobach, besides a quick clip of him an hour deep into the film. Leaving no time to what he tried to pull in Kansas is certainly a choice. Still, to one less familiar with America’s history — past and more recent — of voter suppression, All In is likely to be quite informative.
It is moving to hear audio of the recently deceased Rev. C. T. Vivian protesting for voting rights in Selma, aggravating to learn about the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist’s voter intimidation work in Arizona, and chilling to hear the tragic story of voter Maceo Snipes as told by scholar Carol Anderson. But other storytelling choices by the filmmakers make the documentary feel like something we’ve seen before.
Even if All In won’t be the most creative or original documentary released this year, I’m glad it’s out there. Hopefully it inspires more Americans to pay attention to the importance of voting rights for all. Plus, it means we get a new Janelle Monae song (see the video below) which plays over the closing credits.
All In: The Fight for Democracy is available to stream on Amazon Prime starting Sept. 18.