"In order for one of us to make it through, a hundred of us have to try." - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in "Knock Down the House."
The same can be said about documentary films in general, that in order to "break-through" to larger audiences, a hundred have to be made for one of them to really affect change.
I am hoping that "Knock Down the House" is that one.
I have a feeling that roughly 50% of Americans will never watch the new Netflix documentary, "Knock Down the House," but they should. The reason they should is that while the movie follows several 2018 Democratic primary candidates - all of whom are women, many of color or of Latino descent - the movie is really depicting what Democracy looks like...or more accurately, should look like, in America.
The film, shot in the days and even years leading up to the primaries in 2018, is mainly focused on the absolute tour de force known as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or "AOC"), a waitress from the Bronx who managed to upset and dethrone incumbent Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley, to win New York's 14th congressional district seat. She is the Democratic Party's brightest-burning star, and the scourge of the Right, who see her as inexperienced and even dangerous, considering that she embraces democratic socialism and all things that are evil (or something like that).
Surely, this film was re-framed to spotlight AOC after her monumental win, as her "victory" is really the crux of the film: That it's long overdue for "ordinary people to do some extraordinary things" in this country, and that common people deserve to have common people like them as representatives in government.
But the film highlights others, who may not have won their primary elections but who by no means weren't victorious in other ways. There's single-mom Amy Vilela, whose 22-year-old daughter died when a hospital turned her away when she wasn't able to present an insurance card (she came up short in her bid for Congress in Nevada's 4th district). There's Cori Bush, a black woman from St. Louis who tried unseating longtime incumbent Lacy Clay, a Congressman who has been seated for 15 years, preceded by his father who held the same seat for the previous 32 years (Bush lost, despite taking in 37% of the vote). And there was Paula Jean Swearengin, an environmental activist who lost to incumbent Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Beyond the fact that these were all female challengers, they carry with them other important distinctions: None of them accept corporate or PAC money. All of them had grassroots campaigns. And all of them do not resemble the "normal" sort of politician that typically feeds the establishment in D.C.
But if you can remove "Left" and "Right" politics - which I really hope people still can - this movie has the lifeblood of America flowing through its veins. It is a movie about taking action, and about how YOU can make a difference. I understand that might come across as a bit cheesy or grandiose, but it's true: This movie really isn't about any of these women, or about AOC. It's about YOU. And me. And ALL of us, of any political affiliation or walk of life. It's a first-hand look as to how the average American can make an impact, and enact change.
"This isn't about Left or Right, it's about Up and Down," AOC says at one point in the movie. Please, please, please, I hope all Americans can take this message for what it's worth and agree on it's merits.
For those on the Right, or to those that watch this doc not out of love for the Democratic Party or for AOC but mainly out of curiosity or who are looking to pounce, I hope that's the message they receive: That you too can affect change. But I'd go a step further to say that affecting change is simply not enough. It's about bringing forth positive change.
If you identify on the Left, or come to this movie because you are completely infatuated with AOC and envious of not only her determination and bravery but of her story as a whole, you will find a new kind of leader, one that is a bit timid, a bit goofy and a bit nervous in private, but who absolutely is fearless in public, fueled by the courage and hope that others across this country have breathed into her.
Look, I get it. Politics are complicated and polarizing. But "Knock Down the House" is not. It is a movie about ALL Americans, and it is inspirational and important. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you just might end up taking real action.
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes.
Directed by Rachel Lears ("The Hand That Feeds," "The Woman in the Eye").
"Knock Down the House" is now playing on NETFLIX.
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