What makes for a great documentary? A fascinating subject is key. Combine it with an unflinching look at an important social issue of our time, along with major talking heads, and you have an immensely compelling movie. A rocking 1980s soundtrack can be icing on the cake. In directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down something as seemingly trivial as the music featured in the film takes on greater importance.
The title is a reference to Tom Petty’s hit song, “I Won’t Back Down,” which is spotlighted in the film. Lyrics such as “You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down,” sum up the politician’s determination and will to survive and thrive perfectly. For the uninitiated, Giffords was a rising star as an Arizona Congresswoman until tragedy struck. She was making an appearance at a grocery store when a gunman premeditatively shot her in the face, while injuring and murdering others around her. Giffords miraculously survived but faced a long road to recovery both physically and mentally because she had lost the ability to speak due to brain damage.
The power of music and how it affects our brain is a crucial component in helping Giffords since music can trigger many different parts of the brain, as opposed to the more localized area for speech. It’s easier for her to sing than it is to speak, which is a crazy thought. It truly is unbelievable to see how far Giffords has come, which was documented every step of the way by her remarkable husband, former astronaut Senator Mark Kelly. Kelly displays a lot of strength of his own by caring for his wife while training to go into space at the same time. The love between these two interesting people is real, which is uplifting.
“…Giffords was a rising star as an Arizona Congresswoman…when a gunman premeditatively shot her in the face…”
The downer of Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down comes in the form of gun violence, but it’s something that we desperately need to address as a nation. The film shows that even after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, where twenty small children were murdered with guns, no gun legislation was passed. President Obama says that it’s most likely the greatest failure of his presidency, and you can tell from all of the anger and sadness oozing out of him in the documentary that he means it.
Who wouldn’t be affected by something like that? The NRA is the organization with the real power and influence. Safer gun laws would cost them too much money, so they use their lobbying power. The answer to many questions in life, and especially when it comes to the government, all comes down to “follow the money” on both sides of the aisle.
Giffords is a gun owner and simply wants stricter background checks to weed out the mentally ill, but even that becomes a Herculean task when trying to fight the might of the NRA. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre famously said that the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The film then shows that there was such a person at the scene where Giffords was shot, but he almost shot an innocent person in all of the commotion. The good guy with a gun ultimately ended up doing nothing, which is sadly exactly what the police department of Uvalde did recently, as they stood by while children were slaughtered at yet another school.
Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is powerful, inspirational, and emotional, a must-watch. I shed a few tears after watching a stirring speech that Giffords was able to give during a hearing on gun violence, as did many of her former colleagues in government that day. This story gives us all hope to do what we may not even believe possible simply by not backing down.
"…powerful, inspirational, and emotional, a must-watch."