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'All In: The Fight for Democracy' is required viewing in these times

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' is required viewing in these times

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You may think you’ve had enough of political documentaries for one pandemic year. But “All In: The Fight for Democracy” is the “John Lewis: Good Trouble” of films about the history of voter suppression in the United States.

We live in an era of the “weaponization of voter suppression tactics,” according to the film, which was directed by Lisa Cortes and twice-Oscar nominated Liz Garbus (“The Farm: Angola USA”). The title says it all. The right to vote is the basis of our democracy. When you withhold it, you are doing something profoundly and quintessentially un-American. In the beginning of our Republic, we learn, only property-owning white men were allowed to vote, and therefore only about 6% of the population elected our officials and voted on the laws of the land.

Stacey Abrams, who lost a close, hotly contested and some say tainted gubernatorial election in Georgia in 2018 to its former secretary of state, tells us of her childhood when her parents, both college graduates, would take her and her five siblings to the polls to see them cast their votes. We hear about the time she and her parents were turned away at the gate of the governor’s residence where she was supposed to attend an event honoring Georgia valedictorians.

The film also features civil rights icon Andrew Young, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and historians such as Carol Anderson and Frances Fox Piven and provides an insightful history of voting rights in this country. The 15th Amendment gave the vote to the freed slaves, resulting in a spate of African American senators. But the Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries placed limitations on African American voters, using poll taxes, literacy tests, gerrymandering, threats of lynching and outright murder to discourage voting among Black communities.

In the early 20th century, women demonstrated for the right to vote, resulting eventually in the 19th Amendment, which prohibits denying the right to vote on the basis of sex. We see archival footage of Abrams graduating magna cum laude from historically Black Spelman College for women. States such as Florida, Kentucky and Iowa once denied the vote to felons, disenfranchising millions of voters from America’s poorer communities. The law was overturned in Florida in 2019 by 65% of voters. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s was a de facto effort to register African Americans to vote in the South.

In archival footage, we see a white policeman rip an American flag from the hands of a little Black boy, who had the guts to put up a good fight to keep it. When John Lewis led the march on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, he and his followers endured a severe beating at the hands of rioting police. But the cameras were rolling, and the whole world saw what was going on in the land of the free and the home of the brave, helping to give President Lyndon Johnson the momentum and political capital to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed. It has been under attack ever since.

“All In: The Fight for Democracy” may spend too much time on the 2018 election in Georgia. But on the eve of a historic election, it’s required viewing for all Americans.

In theaters; available Sept. 18 on Amazon Prime Video.

What “All In: The Fight for Democracy” • 3½ stars out of four • Run time 1:42 • Rating PG-13 • Content Disturbing and violent images

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