“The greatest moments of progress are followed by the most intense periods of retrenchment,” says author Ari Berman as he describes how such an important period of advancement for Black men after the Civil War was followed by nearly 100 years of Jim Crow. Andrew Young points out that one vote put an end to Reconstruction, allowing for the issuance of laws and practices designed to circumvent the 15th Amendment. These details are provided by Carol Anderson, whose every appearance has the viewer hanging on her every word. She and Abrams are the most memorable talking heads in “All In.”
Young’s comment about one vote bringing about all that suffering could also be used to describe what happened after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Just as the removal of troops from the South post-Reconstruction beget the numerous bad faith actions designed to keep Blacks from voting, the Supreme Court decision allowed these same states to repeat this cycle. Their rationale was that, since Barack Obama was elected President, voter suppression no longer existed.
It’s here where Garbus, Cortés and producer Abrams really lean into how the racist practices of the past affect not just Black and brown people, but Asians and Indigenous people as well. Some of the details are absolutely terrifying, with examples showing how different regions did their best to prevent their minorities from voting before the Voting Rights Act was passed. Over the past 7 years, the same path is being followed by seemingly innocent laws that sound less egregious but are actually perpetrating the same restrictions. The late John Lewis appears here, both as a U.S. Representative and the man whose skull was cracked on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, to remind us of the importance of the right to vote.
Abrams holds court at the center of “All In: The Fight For Democracy.” When not dispensing information on ensuring your electorate voice is heard, she offers up stories about her pastor parents’ rules for her. They demanded she not only got a good education, but that she also helped those less fortunate. “We were poor too!” Abrams amusingly says, mimicking her younger self’s disbelief at the latter demand. She also tells a story of how she was denied the same audience with the governor of Georgia that every high school valedictorian received because a White cop didn’t think Black people could be that smart. There’s a bit of humor in the tale when her father explains how he used words unbecoming of a pastor in response to the guard’s actions, but the outcome is a sad reminder of the power of stereotypical perception.
It’s pure coincidence that Abrams would once again be denied entry into the Governor’s mansion many years later, but rather than harp on that, she and the filmmakers fill the film with what we need to know before voting on Election Day. As a result, “All In: The Fight For Democracy” is a valuable public service wrapped in an educational, informative and engaging documentary.