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There’s enough chaos currently in the news that some days it’s almost possible to forget that we’re only a few months away from a significant election. Some days. Almost.
Offering an urgent, in-depth and inspiring reminder is Grace Lee and Marjan Safinia’s And She Could Be Next, which features executive producer Ava DuVernay as part of a creative team that PBS has specified is entirely composed of women of color. PBS is also boasting that And She Could Be Next is the first miniseries produced under the POV banner, which mostly means it’s spread over two nights and that it probably could have been edited either more tightly or less tightly.
AIR DATE Jun 29, 2020
And She Could Be Next was filmed between 2018 and 2019 and it follows a group of women of color as they run for office on the local, state and national level. The youngest and probably least known of the candidates is Bushra Amiwala, a DePaul undergrad attempting to become a Cook County (Illinois) commissioner.
Other subjects include more widely familiar figures like Stacey Abrams, running for Georgia governor, and Rashida Tlaib, up for Congress from Detroit. You’ve heard of them. It’s also very possible you’ll recognize names like Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate and Georgia congressional candidate; El Paso native and border activist Veronica Escobar; and Maria Elena Durazo, singled out by the Los Angeles Times as one of the city’s most powerful people, a union organizer running for state senate.
In its first part, And She Could Be Next functions as almost a sequel to last year’s Netflix entry Knock Down the House, which was immediately dubbed “The AOC documentary,” even though Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was only one of four up-and-coming voices showcased as being part of the future of Democratic politics.
The first installment here, running nearly two hours, is dominated by these more recognizable front-and-center figures, with Abrams feeling like a first-among-equals star simply by virtue of her having the biggest and best known personality. In that respect, though, And She Could Be Next doesn’t instantly make its urgency clear, since anybody interested enough to watch almost certainly already knows Abrams’ biographical background and the adversity she faced in her campaign, smears about her debt and tax issues, etc. The same is true of Tlaib, whose capacity as the second or third best-known member of “The Squad” means that she’s been a guest on every news or late-night show imaginable.
That probably explains why the figures I found most compelling in the first episode were Amiwala, very much at the starting blocks of her intriguing career, and McBath, whose backstory involving the tragic shooting death of her son makes her particularly persuasive and heartbreaking.
The opening sequence puts these women on a historical continuum with the likes of Dolores Huerta, Shirley Chisholm, Patsy Mink, Barbara Jordan and Anita Hill; the doc reiterates that women of color have always been the backbone of electoral coalitions and mobilizing efforts and yet have never been put proportionately in positions of power.
“There are not enough people on the inside who look like me!” McBath says simply, as the episode traces the ideology these women generally share and why the moment is right for their ascension. The series directors have solid access to all of these candidates, from fundraisers to debates to fleeting hours at home with their families, as well as in the passenger seat of their cars along the way.
There’s an argument to be made — especially at a time when public television is under threat and that threat is coming entirely from the political right — that the doc should have acknowledged that the new wave of women of color in politics isn’t exclusively on the left. Young Kim, who was running for Congress in California in 2018 and would have been the first Korean-American woman (of either party) elected to the House of Representatives, could, theoretically, have fit into the broader picture here. Knock Down the House at least had a specific focus on candidates endorsed by Justice Democrats. The parameters in this one are closer to “Here are some people the filmmakers were inspired by” — and since I’m basically fine with that, there endeth a point I felt needed to be made but not belabored. Somebody was bound to ask.
The first installment of And She Could Be Next (titled “Building the Movement”) is powerful and engaging, but the second installment, running only 80 minutes and titled “Claiming Power,” is even more important given the current moment. It shows the actual electoral process, the necessity of voting and registration campaigns and the insidious danger of voter suppression, how that disenfranchisement has become modernized and more impactful. Not surprisingly, it spends a lot of time, therefore, on Abrams’ race against a rival candidate — then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp — with unnerving powers to manipulate the literal casting of votes.
This second installment shifts the perspective slightly away from the candidates themselves and toward their political teams, the intersectional coalitions they were building, the grass-roots organizers, the volunteers. The title is And They Could Be Next, but I’d argue that Abrams and Tlaib aren’t next at all; they’re now. Amiwala is next, and among the waves of progressive reinforcements who will be pouring onto ballots in the next 20 years are people like Carla Underwood, a 17-year-old volunteer for Tlaib, or Nsé Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project.
The people who are next aren’t the people who could appear on The Daily Show any time a pet project is in the news, but rather those who are out knocking on doors or giving voters rides to the polls. They’re the people actually making recounts happen, actually forcing state electoral boards to leave polls open so that people waiting in line for three hours can cast ballots.
For me, the second episode should have been at least as long as the first and, I’d even suggest, maybe should have been expanded into an entire feature or an entire POV miniseries on its own. Still, as it stands, And She Could Be Next offers plenty to be exhilarated by and entirely too much to be concerned and vigilant about. After all, we’re four months from a big election with the capacity to impact all of the other chaos around us.
Airs Monday, June 29, and Tuesday, June 30, on PBS. Check your local listings.
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