Arts documentary review

‘All In’ is an appeal to fundamental American rights

Timely documentary empowers young people to vote in 2020

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‘All In: The Fight for Democracy’ illustrates the myriad forms of voter suppression throughout American history and highlights the importance of voting for our democracy.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

All In: The Fight For Democracy
Directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés
Screenplay by Jack Youngelson
Starring (as self) Stacey Abrams, Ari Berman, David Pepper, Carol Andersen
Streaming on Amazon

As the days tick down to Nov. 3, politicians, activists, and Americans nationwide glue anxious eyes to the final stretch of what may be the most unprecedented election cycle in recent history. Amidst the protests and pandemic that have come to define 2020, figures from former presidents to Hollywood influencers emerge with a unifying message urging their followers to vote.

All In: The Fight For Democracy adds valuable insight to this conversation. It details a long and winding narrative of voter suppression in the United States, weaving together historical perspectives and present-day stories to shed light on voting’s deceptively complicated past. Following the documentary’s late September release, directors Lisa Cortés and Liz Garbus hosted college students for a roundtable to discuss the topics in their film.

One of the documentary’s central figures is Stacey Abrams, who gained national recognition as the Democratic candidate for Georgia’s governor seat in 2018 and whose name made the short list of Joe Biden’s possible running mates earlier this year. Interviews about her journey into politics and the controversy of voter suppression in her own tightly contested 2018 race appear throughout the documentary. Cortés views Abrams’ story as a “spine that would then allow us to explore the historical precedents.”

As All In launches into this history, the recurring relationship between voting rights and racism in America quickly reveals itself. Throughout the history of voting laws, from the Reconstruction Era to the 1960s civil rights movement and current events, discrimination rears its ever-shifting head. The film shows how as laws cut down one form of voting discrimination against people of color, another rises to take its place. Policies that initially appear benign, like literacy tests or the redrawing of districts in gerrymandering, often disguise more malicious intentions.

In covering these issues, the film invokes sources such as archives, interviews, and historians. Cortés says that while researching for the documentary, the team wasn’t “surprised but… always amazed at the reconfiguration of the tactics.” The historical precedents reaffirmed Cortés and Garbus’ concerns about voter suppression in the present day — the issue that originally compelled them to create the documentary.

Design elements also played into the film’s final presentation. “We’re always looking for new and exciting ways to tell stories… especially when there is not existing source and archival material,” Garbus explains. For All In, this desire manifests itself in drawings designed by Diana Ejaita and adapted into animations for the film. The drawings overlie Abrams’ voice as she recounts the racial discrimination she experienced in her youth at her own state governor’s mansion. Garbus says that the drawings were intended to help readers “[focus] on the psychology of the experience more so than just the story beats of what happened.”

In both the documentary and the roundtable, the directors make one message clear: No matter who you are, get out and vote. Their message targets younger generations in particular. Garbus says that “young people in America could… be the most influential voting block if they showed up at the polls and exercised that right.” All In shows that others share Garbus’ sentiment, highlighting local community organizers and their varied efforts to raise voter turnout among young people and racial minorities.

This message comes at a crucial moment. For many Generation Z members just coming of age, the 2020 election will mark the first time they are eligible to vote. According to a Pew Research Center article, Gen Z will make up a larger portion of the electorate this year than ever before, at roughly one in every ten eligible voters. But voter turnout among young people remains low, especially when compared to older generations. Although several reasons may contribute, All In highlights two key ones: the disillusionment of many young people with politicians and their broader distrust of their government. 

To explain the untapped power of young voters, Garbus turns to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) upset victory in her 2018 race. In Garbus’ eyes, greater diversity and representation in government is the antidote to political apathy, which then boosts voter turnout and creates a positive cycle. She refers back to AOC, explaining how when young people were given a candidate they felt excited about, they “showed up in droves” to vote. Garbus says, “I think our government should be more reflective of our population in terms of age, in terms of race, in terms of gender, and when young folks show up, they have the power to make that so.”

Given the impending election, All In is certainly worth the two-hour watch. It provides background on issues relevant to anyone eligible to vote, especially college students who may be first-time voters. What’s more, the film re-energizes a hope and desire for social change that can sometimes get lost in our tumultuous world. Garbus remarks, “there is a lot of energy around politics and culture right now [among young people]… that makes me feel very optimistic.” Garbus and Cortés say one of the best ways to channel this energy is to speak through our ballots.

So to fellow MIT students or anyone reading: Watch this film, and then get out and vote.

For more information about the film and voting resources, visit

Update 10/15/2020: This article was update to correct the spelling of Lisa Cortés. A previous version of the article wrote misspelled her surname Cortez.