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Stacey Abrams, Liz Garbus to speak at Watson documentary screening, panel

All In: The Fight for Democracy screening is part of Watson Documentary Film initiative

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The screening will take place Sept. 22 and 23 and will be followed by a panel with guests including Stacey Abrams, and hopes to bring attention to voter suppression.

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs will host two screenings of a new documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, followed by a virtual discussion panel featuring the director, Liz Garbus ’92, and Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives and 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate.

The events are part of the ongoing John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress, a collaboration between the Brown Arts Initiative and Watson Institute to bring together film, filmmakers and social progress on campus. 

The documentary, which explores historic and contemporary voter suppression in the United States, will be screened Sept. 22 and 23, with a panel to follow after the second screening. 

Garbus explained that Abrams worked as a producer on the film and provided “important insight, contacts (and) footage from her own election.”

During the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia, there were multiple instances of voter suppression, such as “ballots being thrown out, polls being closed, lines being so long that people were basically disenfranchised,” Garbus said.

The following year, Abrams approached Garbus with the intent of making a film about the history of voting and voter suppression in the United States. Though Abrams did not originally intend to focus on her own individual experiences, Garbus said that the team worked with her to find a balance between analyzing the history of voter suppression, explaining political events and recounting personal experiences. In the documentary, Garbus added, “Stacey’s own personal story and journey is the spine of the film.”

Though voter fraud and suppression have become more commonplace discussion topics since the 2016 election, Garbus believes that the subject of the film has always been relevant. 

Garbus sees the passage of the 15th amendment as the start of “the battle for the enfranchisement for the voting rights“ of all Americans.  

This battle continued in 2013, when Shelby County v. Holder declared Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. That section of the Voting Rights Act required certain districts to affirm to federal officials that any changes they made to election laws and procedures would not negatively impact individuals’ voting rights based on their race or minority status. The outcome of the case allowed states more freedom in instituting new restrictions to voting, which Garbus said “opened the floodgates” to more discriminatory election practices and legislation that still continue today.  

Garbus mentioned that understanding voter apathy is key to discussing voter suppression. She said that if individual votes were unimportant, there would be fewer efforts to suppress them. She added that she hoped All In would help viewers better understand how to begin to reclaim their voting rights. “People need to know it’s not them. It’s not on you. You didn’t do something wrong. The system was designed to make it difficult for you to vote,” she said.

Thalia Field ’88 MFA ’95, faculty director of the Brown Arts Initiative, which partners with the Watson Institute to produce the JFK Jr. series, said that “the art of documentary film is one of the most important ways to communicate with others.” This holds true, she added, in works that focus on social justice.

Professor Edward Steinfield, director of the Watson Institute, added that “having an open debate about (voter suppression) issues is really important among all people so we can recognize where we have gone wrong or where we can do better.”

Steinfield added that Brown has a sizable population of young voters who, regardless of their political values, might be encouraged to discuss their decision to vote after watching All In.

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