Premise: The documentary takes a look at the history, and current activism against voter suppression; barriers to voting that most people don’t even know is a threat to their basic rights as citizens of the United States.
A call to action against voter suppression in the lead up to this year’s divisive and objectively bizarre presidential election, All In: The Fight for Democracy aims to educate and inspire. In its approach, the documentary makes its point clearly and thoroughly as it informs its viewers of both the history and the modern practices of voter suppression in the United States. Backed by data, archival footage, and filled with vibrantly animated visual aids, All In gives the viewer the knowledge needed for its call to action to fight voter suppression while also being eye-opening to the rampant practices occurring today.
Using the controversial 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election as a jumping off point for its examination of voter suppression, All In comes from the point of view of candidate Stacey Abrams. Abrams was the first African-American female gubernatorial candidate for a major party in the United States and the film posits (with plenty of evidence) that she would have won had it not been for voter suppression tactics utilized by her opponent, Brian Kemp. Abrams made headlines when she ended her campaign not with a concession speech, but by calling voter suppression an “erosion of our democracy.” She also went on to found Fair Fight Action, an organization dedicated to stopping voter suppression.
All In isn’t just about this one election, however. It’s about the United States as a whole and how the electorate has been beaten down and silenced throughout our history to ensure anything but fair elections. By examining the history of voting rights from the framing of the Constitution, through post Civil War Reconstruction, Women’s Suffrage, and the Civil Rights movements, All In clearly demonstrates the steep and bloody fight for a fair and unimpeded electorate in our democracy. While Abrams is the focal speaker in the documentary, All In includes commentary from several political scholars, activists, and authors who are experts on voting rights and suppression. Thus painting a complete picture of its message.
There’s a strong undercurrent of frustration that runs through the documentary and extends onto the viewer. As the history of voter suppression is demonstrated through the film, you can’t help but be surprised, shocked, and inspired while also experiencing a growing anger at the changes that are still needed. One of the more eye-opening aspects of All In was the context it provided to the country’s first elections. Since only white, land-owning men were eligible to vote, that equates to a very small percentage of the population that were even eligible to vote. And from there, it has only been an uphill climb for voting rights. As the documentary takes us through the timeline of American history and the milestones of voting rights, it shows the horrors that were endured along the way. The 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and the horrific lynching of Maceo Snipes, an African-American World War II veteran who was murdered in 1946 for voting in Georgia, are just two of many examples.
All In makes a compelling argument against a plethora of modern voter suppression tactics as well. Practices such as voter ID laws, gerrymandering, voter roll purging, and more are given a brutal spotlight in the documentary and a clear case is made for racial discrimination that takes place through these actions. As a white man in his 30s, I never thought to question voter ID laws. Yet, as All In explains, voter ID laws are not the voter fraud deterrent they’re made out to be. In fact, there are voters who were born in the era of Jim Crow who are unable to get a state issued ID because some white hospitals at the time refused to issue birth certificates to African-Americans born in them.
The film also acknowledges the biased use of signature verifications. A voter can be denied based on their signature not matching records, despite it being an inexact metric for verification. The film uses the example of foreign-born naturalized citizens who sign their name in English to draw a link to voter ID laws and discrimination at the polls. Another example the film gives is the abject absurdity that in Texas a gun permit is suitable identification to vote, yet a student ID is insufficient.
Through numerous examples and a wealth of data and figures, All In gives viewers an important lesson in the history of American democracy. It also pulls the curtain back on the blatant tactics used today to influence elections through voter suppression. However, the most important aspect to All In is the tools it provides to the viewer to fight voter suppression and ensure everyone’s voice is heard. Viewers who are unclear about their rights as citizens of the United States when it comes to voting will come away from All In with a strong idea of how they can make sure their voting rights are not impeded. Although this is merely a bandage on a larger, widespread issue, it is a much needed tool to have in a democracy while the fight continues to end voter suppression.
All In: The Fight for Democracy hits theaters on September 9th before being available on Amazon Prime on September 18th.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.