With the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide protests against police brutality and racism sparked by the death of George Floyd, and the political turmoil of the final year of the Trump presidency, 2020 was a tumultuous time in America. The year’s standout documents arrived in that turbulent environment, tackling a wide range of social justice issues through personal stories of struggle, survival and activism. And in The Hollywood Reporter‘s roundtable discussion with the men and women behind those timely non-fiction works, Kerry Washington made it clear who she viewed as the country’s real superheroes.
Joined by directors Garrett Bradley (Time), Jesse Moss (Boys State), James Lebrecht (Crip Camp) and Amy Ziering (On the Record), as well as producer Stacey Abrams (All In: The Fight for Democracy)Washington called the subjects of her own documentary — The Fightabout the ACLU — the true Avengers. for the legal battles they fought during the Trump. And moreover, Washington admits that she’s heartened to see that, like those Marvel icons, the lawyers highlighted by her film are having a seismic effect on younger Americans.
“Nothing has made me more proud of this film than young people who say they are inspired to pursue this line of work — to be a civil rights attorney — or to get more engaged in their civic responsibility because of the film,” says Washington. “I’m blown away every time that happens. I had a sense that these are the real Marvel Avengers. These are our real heroes.”
Still, what was most important to Washington wasn’t celebrating her legal protagonists as out-of-this-world do-gooders; Rather, it was showing that heroic change is made by everyday citizens.
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“I also knew we had to unravel the hero worship that is happening in this country,” Washington says. “One of the reasons why it was important for me that we make a film about the ‘Avengers’ in this area is because it can ‘t be one person.” She continues: “This desire to have one person swoop in and be the perfect leader, the answer to all of our questions — it’s how we get into trouble. we are the heroes of our own communities. That each of us, by filling out our census, by showing up to vote, by volunteering, by phone banking, by raising our children with more compassion — we have the power to transform our families, our cities, our communities, our states, our country. All of us.”
Washington’s hopefulness for the country’s youth is echoed by Moss, who received similarly enthusiastic feedback when Boys State — about a Texas program that has teen boys create a mock representative government — was screened on high school and college campuses. While All In Also garnered a positive response after its September premiere on Amazon, Abrams had some choice words for a certain group of people that she wished had seen her film, which concerns the ongoing fight against voter suppression.
“The editors of The Wall Street Journal have been sanguine about lifting up voices simply to deny the existence of voter suppression and, as a consequence, the legitimacy of every citizen as a rightful participant in elections,” Abrams says. “It baffles me that there could be such disingenuity about what is happening, particularly when the evidence is not only presented, but I think [All In directors] Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés did an extraordinary job of contextualizing, providing support. But also providing this gut wrenching narrative that goes beyond my one election to this larger historical legacy that we have that has yet to be mitigated.”
No matter what side of the political aisle you fall on, the year’s finest documentaries provide a valuable perspective on the myriad topics facing Americans today. As Ziering asserts, “Everyone needs to see these films. Honestly. It’s a great investment of your time, and you do end up transformed and enlightened, and that enlightenment, you carry forward. It’s super important.”
To hear more, check out the above exclusive clip from The Hollywood Reporter‘s documentary roundtable. The 93rd Academy Awards premiere on April 25.
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