PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

All In: The Fight for Democracy (2020) [ IMDB / Photo by Courtesy of Amazon Studios/Courtesy of Amazon Studios - © Courtesy of Amazon Studios]

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

All In: The Fight for Democracy
Lisa Cortes, Liz Garbus

Amazon Studios

September 2020

Other

There's no mistaking where the political loyalties of the makers behind All In: The Fight for Democracy lie. The documentary is ostensibly about voter suppression, which has been used by different parties in different ways throughout American history. But in the year 2020, getting more Americans to the polls on Election Day inevitably involves running right through one party, which stands against expanding voter rights like so many Deep South sheriffs getting ready to test out their clubs on the heads of civil rights marchers. It's the party with the elephant.

That was not always the case. As directors Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus argue in their dramatic and informative recounting, keeping Americans from voting has a dishonorably long and lamentably bipartisan history. At the start of the nation, only about six percent of the population passed the qualifications deemed necessary to participate in elections (i.e., white male landowners). But Cortes and Garbus dispense rather too quickly with most of that history in order to bring voter suppression closer to the present day.

This is understandable, given that the star of the documentary is Stacey Abrams. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Georgia in 2018 who barely lost to Republic Brian Kemp, Abrams has since become a passionate advocate for voting rights. This was due in part to Georgia's lamentable record of limiting access to the ballot box, a campaign of limiting democracy headed up by the secretary of state who was, in a fox-and-the-henhouse twist, candidate Brian Kemp.

Aside from providing some biographical details, Abrams is less present for the earlier stretches of the documentary. Instead, a clutch of historians, politicians, and writers (Carol Anderson, Andrew Young, Ari Berman, Eric Foner) turn a specifically racial lens on the issue. They describe how every step forward in expanding the franchise to Black voters after the end of slavery was met by backlash and retrenchment. Rights granted to Black male citizens by the 15th Amendment were systematically stripped away by a variety of tools (mostly poll taxes and bogus literacy tests, often waived for white voters) passed by Confederate state Democratic legislatures. By the 1940s, barely three percent of Southern Blacks of voting age were registered.

All In illustrates with bright clarity the force that lay behind these laws with the story of Maceo Snipes. In 1946, Snipes, a World War II veteran and the only Black voter registered in his Georgia county, cast his vote in a primary election. He was shot dead the next day by a White man.

[IMDB / Photo by Courtesy of Amazon Studios/Courtesy of Amazon Studios - © Courtesy of Amazon Studios]

From there, All In moves straight to the civil rights movement, which seems today more remembered for its righteous stand against segregated public spaces than its just as righteous but less cinematic focus on giving Southern Blacks the right to vote without harassment or the threat of murder. A bridge to the present is provided by the section on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally enshrined many protections for the franchise in several states that had most egregiously tried to violate them. (Including a couple, like Alaska and Arizona, that tried to keep minorities like Native Americans and Latinos from voting). Although the decades that followed were marked by general bipartisan agreement on voting rights, following Barack Obama's 2008 election, Republican state legislatures began surgically targeting his coalition of voters with gerrymandering and suppression tactics.

In a section that will make at least a few viewers somewhat ill, the film describes how the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder stripped protections away in large part because of Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts is protégé of William Rehnquist, who in the 1960s took part in minority voter intimidation efforts in Arizona. Almost immediately, states like Texas began enacting restrictions like voter ID laws whose quirks (gun permits were acceptable, student IDs were not) seemed surgically designed to favor one group of voters over another.

Because Republican state officials kept claiming the measures were to combat voter fraud, since that had been proven time and again to be almost nonexistent, the campaign of making it harder for certain groups to vote was so familiar in its intent that Anderson calls it "Jim Crow 2.0." By the time Kemp was purging hundreds of thousands of disproportionately Black voters from the rolls in Georgia before the 2018 election, the brutally partisan power grab was almost old hat, given the lack of strong available legal countermeasures.

Against this depressing backdrop, Abrams serves as something of a tonic. A stirring and almost impossibly upbeat presence, she has a clarion voice and sharp precision that cannot help but end the film on an uplifting note. She and the filmmakers work hard to make this documentary more than a grim litany of defeats. While they cannot quite make the final product a non-partisan document, that's not exactly their fault. It's one party, after all, that has decided that the way to victory is making sure that fewer and fewer people can their vote. At times, it seems to be working.

In the clip that Cortes and Garbus include of her acknowledging that Kemp will be the next governor of Georgia, Abrams says, "This is not a speech of concession … I cannot concede." It sounds less like an acknowledgement of defeat than a battle cry pointing to the future.


* * *

All In: The Fight for Democracy is available in the US on Amazon Prime.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.