The "Righteous Indignation" of 'All In': 'THR Presents' Q&A With Janelle Monae, Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes

The 'Turntables' singer-songwriter joined the film's directors, Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes, for a 'THR Presents' Q&A that touched on familial themes, their "extraordinary" protagonist Stacey Abrams and why the voter suppression fight is far from over.

At the height of the COVID pandemic, All In: The Fight for Democracy directors Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés reached out to Janelle Monáe to write a song for the documentary about voter suppression. By her own admission, Monáe “mentally wasn’t in a good space” and had stopped recording. But after screening the film about Georgia political activist Stacey Abrams, the singer-songwriter and actress rallied and created the Oscar-shortlisted song, “Turntables,” drawing on familial experience.

“My father was in and out of prison because he was addicted to drugs,” Monáe explained. “He is a recovering addict. He's doing amazing now, but instead of putting him in rehabilitation, they threw him in jail and took away his voting rights.”

Monáe, Garbus and Cortés sat down with The Hollywood Reporter's executive film editor Tatiana Siegel to discuss their acclaimed documentary in a THR Presents Q&A powered by Vision Media.

Although Abrams was eager to work on the film as a producer, she initially was reluctant to appear on camera. But Garbus and Cortés were able to convince her that deconstructing her heartbreaking defeat in 2018 for the Georgia governorship would provide the ideal tableau for exploring voter disenfranchisement and how it disproportionately affects people of color.

“Voting rights — how do you make [a film about] it have a heartbeat? How do you make it a dramatic thriller that people are going to be engaged in and root for someone?” Garbus said. “The way [that election] unfolded exposed the kind of Jim Crow 2.0 system that the Georgia elections were operating under. It inspired that righteous indignation that makes you want to change. So, we showed Stacey what that would look like and feel like — the stakes, this extraordinary leader denied that opportunity. And she decided she would go with our vision.”

Abrams’ efforts have been undeniably effective, having flipped the state of Georgia from Republican to Democrat in the 2020 presidential election. Furthermore, the state’s two open Senate seats went blue in a historic runoff election in early January, giving Democrats a tie in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break any ties. Still, Cortés underscored the need to continue fighting for equality.

“I think Jan. 6 illustrated that this story didn't end this push-pull, this tension,” she said in reference to the deadly Capitol riot. “So for all of us who are committed to change, we, as artists, it is our responsibility to continue to tell this story and to support the communities that are pushing back against all of these laws, pushing back against this violence and intimidation. That's our connective tissue. We're all in.”

As a Georgia voter who cast a ballot for Abrams in 2018, Monáe felt some vindication screening the film for her father.

“He felt represented. He felt seen. He felt heard by those stories [in the film],” she said. “And I think as storytellers, we have to keep amplifying those voices. We have to make sure that people who've been pushed to the margins of society see themselves and feel like they have another shot at life and that they're not alone.”

This THR Presents is brought to you by Amazon Studios; additional Q&As and other supplementary content can be viewed in THR's new public hub at THRPresents.HollywoodReporter.com.