PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'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


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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


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.


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.


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.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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