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Like the tides, the right to vote has ebbed and flowed dating back to Reconstruction in the wake of the Civil War. Stacey Abrams — one of the Democratic party’s brightest stars who was key in turning Georgia blue in the 2020 presidential election and the key subject of Lisa Cortés and Liz Garbus’s documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy — would be the first to tell you that the fight is ongoing. The gains she and disenfranchised voters made last November were quickly followed by onerous restrictions enacted in more than a dozen states.
“Ultimately, in moviemaking terms, it’s like a monster movie,” Garbus tells THR Presents, powered by Vision Media. “The monster comes out of the water, he’s dangerous, he might kill you, and you figure out how to fight him, but then he rears up with another ugly head. That’s where we find ourselves now.”
Those moments of transformational promise followed by retrenchment are the arcs that she and Cortés capture in their film with a combination of talking heads, archival footage, vintage graphics and even animation. That last approach helps recreate the heartbreaking moment in Abrams’ life when she and her parents were turned away from the governor’s mansion in Georgia—deprived of her moment to celebrate being valedictorian of her high school class because of the color of her skin. It also motivated her to fight for her rights as a citizen, something Cortés knows a little something about.
“Oftentimes filmmakers say, ‘we stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us,’” says Cortés. “I literally was birthed by the people who came before us in the struggle. From my grandparents to my parents, their activism are the stories that I grew up with and was inspired by… So to have the ability to, yes, have those ancestors whispering in my ears but also to use all the tools available to us as filmmakers to present this history in hopefully a compelling way that fills you with the desire to not only know more and contextualize it in how your ability to vote is being affected, [but] to see what you can do to provide the opportunities for others who might be denied that access.”
For this reason, it was important to Cortés and Garbus that their film be released prior to the last national election (it was launched in September of 2020 on Amazon), in order to, as Cortés puts it, “create work that is of service.”
“I think the ability to make a film that we knew we were going to release before the general election,” Cortés elaborates, “and to have it available as a tool on multiple platforms that all Americans who should be able to vote can access, and really have a sense of what the stakes were, was so enticing and in alignment with what is important for us as filmmakers.”
Adds Garbus: “The best antidote to voter suppression is turnout, so we certainly [wanted] to inspire that turnout.”
As Garbus, and the subjects of her film explain, history is a continual fight, and she and Cortés are in that fight, using the documentary format, and its ties to muckraking journalism, as its own form of activism.
“One of the goals Lisa and I had with this film was to inspire that sense of righteous outrage,” she says, “because there are so many obstacles being put in people’s way.”
This edition of THR Presents is brought to you by Amazon Studios.
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