As the US becomes more politically polarized, public discourse has taken a backseat to winning, with politicians willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that victory to maintain control. Gerrymandering, the process of redrawing political district lines to favor one side, is one of the most widely used tools in this matter as it effectively takes power away from opposition votes to the point where one party can get fewer votes, but win more congressional seats. Frustrated by watching their votes mean less and less with each election, grassroots groups rose up across the country intent on changing their broken political system. Documentarians Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance were there to capture it as it happened.
“…the water crisis in Flint, MI sparked this movement to make everyone’s vote count again.”
For reasons much too complicated to get into, the water crisis in Flint, MI sparked this movement to make everyone’s vote count again. Disgusted by how drastically the manipulation had affected her state, organizer Katie Fahey made a Facebook post asking if anyone was interested in taking on gerrymandering. The response was overwhelming and, from nothing, started a campaign to change the system from within, much to the chagrin of experienced political aficionados. Meanwhile, movements also rose up in North Carolina and Wisconsin, inspiring University of Chicago law professor Nick Stephanopoulos and Ruth Greenwood, his Australian activist attorney wife, to bring the battle all the way to the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, they all faced strong opposition from the establishment, but they persevered because the consequences of losing were simply not an option.
Effectively, Goodman and Durrance delivered a documentary that is educational, inspirational, exciting and, most importantly, interesting. The average person probably checks out when they hear about voting reform, but these directors do an excellent job of explaining why this issue is so important to every voter on both sides of the aisle. This truly is a non-partisan issue in that it allows the winning side to redistrict to their advantage. As much as it has benefitted Republicans in recent years, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has come out as a strong opponent of gerrymandering and the unfair advantage it gives to those in power.
“…no matter how rigged the system is and how high the opposition is stacked against you, it is possible to make changes…”
Ultimately, Slay the Dragon emphatically proves that no matter how rigged the system is and how high the opposition is stacked against you, it is possible to make changes if you’re passionate and articulate enough to convince your neighbors that something has to be done. It’s a statement about the strength of the American political process, where citizens with very little to no experience can stand up and effectively change the course of their political environment. These things are possible as long as we don’t allow ourselves to become jaded and apathetic. We hold a lot more power than we recognize. We only have to use it.
Slay the Dragon screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.