Quite often, documentaries built around political themes have a long list of grievances but not a lot when it comes to solutions to the multitude problems being presented. The compelling film Slay the Dragon, from filmmakers Chris Durrance (Gerald R. Ford: A Test of Character) and Barak Goodman (Makers: Women Who Make America) not only present us with possible ways to solve the problem they profile; we get to see some of these efforts put into action by everyday citizens who simply want to return to the promise of democracy upon which this country was founded. In the end, they may end up only part of the way there, but it’s a step in the right direction, and more importantly, it’s something of a blueprint if others wish to follow their lead.
The “Dragon” of the film’s title is the practice of gerrymandering, or redrawing electoral maps to serve the party in power—a practice that has admittedly been around for centuries and has been used by both parties over time. But after the 2008 election, perhaps the most devious example of electoral manipulation in history was carried out by a secret, well-funded Republican initiative that targets state legislative races in key swings states (you can probably guess which ones) because its those legislative bodies that are in charge of redrawing district maps, and they did so with powerful lawyers and demographic data. To say the practice was creative is an understatement of immense magnitude, and the result, some argue, created the deeply polarizing party atmosphere that exists today, as well as resulting in the election of our current president.
On a smaller scale (that turns into a larger scale issue when you combine the efforts of these different states), they also create legislative bodies that steamroll agenda-driven policy changes that benefit big corporations and alter voter registration laws that push out Democratic and minority voters. The film expertly lays out this complicated process and reveals how disturbingly clever and relatively cheap and easy it is to do in a relatively short period.
Slay the Dragon puts its primary focus on Michigan, drawing a clear line between gerrymandering and the deadly water issues in Flint, an incident that still remains a problem and one that tipped the scales for a lot of citizen who chose to fight back. Katie Fahey founded the grassroots activist group Voters = Not Politicians, which devoted itself to putting redistricting back in the hands of the people (specifically a balanced counsel of Republicans, Democrats and Independents) and took their right to put an anti-gerrymandering initiative on the 2018 ballot all the way to the Supreme Court.
The filmmakers begin their work as something more informative and then pivot to profile Fahey as a non-political citizen who started a revolution because the right for voters to actually choose their representatives was being taken away by shifty redistricting. The film has drama, suspense, mystery, intrigue, and elements that will hopefully enrage you—bringing it all together to create something incredibly timely, inspirational and informative with a virtual guide (or at least a few good ideas) on how to fix a piece of the broken electoral process. I can’t think of a better way to spend this time in isolation than learning about something that has been going on all around you since you were born, and you likely knew little to nothing about.
The film is now available on all cable VOD and digital platforms (including Apple TV/iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, FandangoNOW, etc.)
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