Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Slay the Dragon

Gerrymandering, the process of taking advantage of redrawing voting districts to favor one political party's interests, has been around for two centuries. Slay the Dragon takes a hard look at the Republican change in 2010 led by REDMAP which used modern technology to take the practice to extremes to remap states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin in ways that led to the disenfranchisement of voters. Rising to meet the challenge were groups created by private citizens focused on reclaiming their power by fighting the process of gerrymandering on both state and federal levels.

Directors Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman do a fairly good job of explaining both the practice of gerrymandering and its effects. While primarily looking at how private citizens such as Katie Fahey worked to organize against the practice, the documentary details the Tea Party's wins in the 2010 election and the subsequent redrawing of the districts were just the first steps in a conservative agenda that included undercutting unions and suppressing voters prior to the 2016 general election.

The anger at both voters and experts over the practice, and the pride by those involved in gerrymandering, come across well on-screen. Although the practice isn't shocking, the scope of REDMAP's actions is what resonates here. The documentary showcases a number of infuriating scenes in focusing on the power grab in these states and the levels the Republicans were willing to go in order to hang onto such power once acquired including legal battles (both at the state level and at the federal level ending at the Supreme Court), smear campaigns, and erasing hard drives ordered by the courts to be turned over as evidence.

In terms of narrative, the documentary knows how to push the right emotional buttons here to avoid getting lost in the legal minutiae and maneuverings. The graphics offering examples of the process of gerrymandering work to help illustrate the literally bizarre twists and turns such practices can take. Choosing to make Fahey a face of the fight helps humanize the story and bring the effects of gerrymandering back to people hurt by the process. While far from excised from American politics, Slay the Dragon does offer hope in building on small victories and working as a rallying call for fighting against practices like gerrymandering. The film is currently available on both DVD and several streaming services.

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