After months of political ads, virtual conventions, debates, and endless polls, Americans will get the chance to vote for the next President of the United States on November 3. With voter turnout being less than 60% in recent elections, many citizens seem to share Mark Twain’s sentiment that, “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” We want to encourage everyone to get out (or mail in) the vote this year. To inspire you, we’re showcasing some films that explore in different ways the political process and why it still matters. In her recent documentary about White House photographer Pete Souza The Way I See It, Dawn Porter explained how a film chronicling the Reagan and Obama administrations spoke to this election season. “I hope people will take away that this office is really important and who is in it is really important,” she said. If you are not registered or have questions, MSNBC's Plan Your Vote can help you get ready. Then vote!
On the Basis of Sex | The balance of justice
The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the subject of Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex, has been doubly tragic for many. First, because of her loss, and second because her “most fervent wish…that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed” is being ignored. Ginsburg keenly felt the weight of this presidential election on the future balance of the Supreme Court. Long before she sat on the Court, Ginsburg had her judicial temperament honed by decades of fighting for gender equity both in the classroom and before the court. In the film, Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) assists her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) on a 1970 tax case that would not only become essential in overturning the court’s bias on gender issues, but would demonstrate the future Justice's talent and passion for making her point. Ginsburg would go on to argue six cases before the Supreme Court, with five decided in her favor.
Irresistible | A breath of comic relief
After decades of turning real politics into comedy fodder as the host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart created a comic film about a fictional election in Irresistible. Prompted by a viral video, liberal power broker Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) travels to Deerlaken, Wisconsin, to coax a retired colonel (Chris Cooper) to run for mayor—and then maybe save the Democratic party. The ensuing political circus, with a GOP consultant (Rose Byrne) joining in to fund the Republican incumbent, evolves under Stewart’s helm into a light-hearted modern-day fable on money and politics. “It's a universal kind of movie that doesn't necessarily lean right or left," explains Carell. “But it does expose the absurdity in politics.” While we prepare for the coming election a little levity might be just the ticket. The Hollywood Reporter diagnosis is that “Stewart's snappy political satire…might be the perfect antidote to the anxiety choking the air like thunderclouds.”
Suffragette | A vote for progress
Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette weaves together historical and fictional characters to dramatize the remarkable struggle of British women to secure their right to vote. “If we now take a woman's right to vote and to hold public office for granted, Suffragette reminds us that it wasn't that long ago when things were different,” notes The Philadelphia Enquirer. Seen through the experience of laundry worker Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), Suffragette showcases the full range of activism. From violent protests to public speeches—like those delivered from the real-life Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep)—the film dramatizes the real cost of political change. Both Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan wanted audiences not simply to appreciate their democratic legacy, but to use it: “Our intention was to advocate to use your vote, and to remind us all that it was hard-won.”
Milk | Getting the vote out
In Gus Van Sant’s Milk, the story of gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk becomes a testament to the democratic system he fought—and died—for. In 1977, after years of unsuccessful campaigns, Milk (Sean Penn in an Oscar®-winning performance) won his seat at the table by putting together a coalition of otherwise marginalized groups to support him. As the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, Milk used his podium to promote a politics of inclusion and equality. As his one-time campaign manager Anne Kronenberg (played by Alison Pill) later wrote, “He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.” Most importantly, he got people who didn't believe in the system to go to the ballot box and vote.
Loving | Believing in the arc of justice
Loving, Jeff Nichols’ historical drama about the couple Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving, is a deeply political film with almost no politics. Arrested in 1958 for breaking Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, the interracial couple were exiled from their family and home state of Virginia. It wasn’t until the ACLU offered to take their case to the Supreme Court did the Loving family have a chance to return home. Except for Richard’s request that his lawyers “tell the judge I love my wife," the couple stayed out of the courtroom. In the end, their quiet dignity won out. In 1967, the Court voted unanimously that any laws forbidding the marriage of people of different races were unconstitutional. While the two remained very private, their story provides hope for our political system. “In a climate where we feel the movements in society are being made by big political machinery,” notes Nichols. “People made a difference here. Individuals.”