All In: The Fight For Democracy

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

All In: The Fight For Democracy
"If you've been confused by what you've seen of US politics recently and are looking to learn more about it, this is a great place to start."

If you followed the 2020 US election online, you will have noticed that on the day itself one piece of advice was being repeated more than any other: stay in line. After waiting in long queues, many voters were falsely told that the polls had closed and they should just go away. This may not have have been intentionally misleading behaviour from clerks. The fact is that the rules governing elections - which differ from state to state - are complicated and not well understood. There are reasons for that.

A thorough but accessible guide to the history of voting in the US and what that history means for the electorate today, All In is a film for everybody who grew up hearing the phrase one man one vote and wondered what happened to everybody else, or reflected on the past and recognised that 'man' has itself always been a contested term. For much of its history, the country did not recognise that all men are created equal, and the idea of women voting (though US Quakers championed it in the early 1800s, a fact not mentioned here) was generally considered laughable. Once white women won the vote, however, it could be observed that the sky did not fall in, so there was little real objection to them keeping it. The same was not true for black people, who turned out to be quite keen on voting for black candidates and for others who represented their interests (and were therefore in opposition to the country's wealthy elite). This got those in power rattled, and led to one attempt after another to prevent them accessing the ballot box without breaking federal law by explicitly mentioning race.

If you're not familiar with the machinations of the Jim Crow era, there's a lot here that will shock you. The film offers salutary lessons for anyone who has, for instance, been attracted to the suggestion that voting should depend on passing an intelligence test and hasn't realised how easily such rules can be abused. It clarifies the basic rights that apply across all states and looks at the struggles involved in getting this far, from an examination of key court cases to a look at Ku Klux Clan intimidation and the murder of Maceo Snipes when he stood up against it to be the only black man to vote in Taylor County, Georgia.

As in the 2020 election, Georgia takes centre stage - a part of the South where resistance to black people voting was strong, but a place where shifting demographics and determined activism would ultimately decide the fate of the nation. That wasn't known when this film was made, of course, but the central figure behind efforts to fight disenfranchisement, Stacey Abrahms, is its key figure, observed over the course of her ultimately unsuccessful run for the Senate. Reflecting on a youth when a white security guard refused her access to a celebration for valedictorians because he didn't believe that a black girl could be that smart, she discourses on the legacy of racism in the country's electoral system with passion as well as erudition, and with a natural skill for making issues which might seem obscure or tedious come to life.

Other activists and change-makers are also interviewed here, including those who still have a great deal to overcome. This is history told whilst it continues to be made. There's extensive footage of people being turned away at the ballot box to illustrate its contemporary relevance. If you've been confused by what you've seen of US politics recently and are looking to learn more about it, this is a great place to start. If you're concerned about protecting your own voting rights, wherever in the world you live, it's essential viewing.

Reviewed on: 07 Jan 2021
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A documentary about the history of voter suppression in the United States.

Festivals:

New York 2020

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