It may be a new week and a new month but the daily headlines continue to remind us of the challenges that we face as a country and as a people. In the midst of all of this, we (and we hope you do too) continue to take comfort in knowing that there are people out there who have dedicated their lives to confronting these challenges. They have devoted their careers to ensuring that we, as Americans, can go to sleep safe and healthy with our freedoms maintained. Hope is out there, and now playing in our Virtual Movie Palace is a documentary that sheds light on that hope.
THE FIGHT is a new film about the American Civil Liberties Union from directors Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli B. Despres, the team that brought us 2016’s acclaimed documentary Weiner (and in Depres’ case Blackfish).
The Fight is motivated by a scrappy and diverse group of lawyers who put everything on the line to fight for basic freedoms that, unfortunately, have become intertwined in the gears of the American political system. The film follows these lawyers as they build their cases and tirelessly prepare to make their arguments in front of the Supreme Court.
Though it’s not hard to deduce where the directors’ political ideals lean, it is refreshingly not interested in pushing a hard agenda. Instead of making a political statement, it focuses on the exhausting amount of time, the strategy, and the emotions at stake in preparing for a case of this magnitude, as well as the stories of those affected by the outcome of each decision.
Though the ACLU focuses on hundreds of cases across the nation at any given time, the film zooms in on five as we meet lawyers Lee Gelernt, Brigitte Amiri (an Ann Arborite and Michigan Theater fan!), Dale Ho, Josh Block and Chase Strangio. These legal fighters spend their days battling issues of immigrant rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and the question of legal citizenship on the U.S. census.
We are given just a glimpse of their day-to-day as they study and painstakingly prepare to step in front of the Supreme Court, while the audience is given hints of the toll it takes on their personal lives. And it’s not just time spent away from their families as they travel and work late, but each of the subjects also offer horrifying examples of the hate mail and messages they receive on a regular basis.
And it’s all done to protect the civil freedoms we are promised in the Constitution, not to promote politicized beliefs. Though the film does focus on arguments typically bolstered by left-leaning politicians, the filmmakers also remind us of previous controversial cases that protected the free speech of clients like the Westboro Baptist Church, the Nazi Party, and the white supremacists who sparked violence in Charlottesville in 2018.
While discussing these events, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson offers the film’s thesis, saying that freedom of speech, and all other basic human rights, is not “for the people you agree with, it’s a right for everybody.” It’s this idea that makes the film so important, because it makes the point that our freedoms are taken for granted or misunderstood by so many involved in the constant barrage of antagonization produced by our two-party system. And when the filmmakers show us the lives of the real people affected by these arguments and decisions, and are more than just talking points, we see just how unfortunate it is that politics need to be involved at all.
I personally love documentaries and stories like this that show the minutiae of preparation and work involved in producing major stories. We may celebrate or sulk over the outcomes, but nevertheless, there is inspiration to be found from the people that lead from beginning to end. So I highly recommend that you watch this film and then if you find that you want more like I did,, my recommendation for you is The War Room, the classic 1993 documentary from D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus that follows James Carville and George Stephanopoulos during Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign, which you can now view on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max. And I also found myself thinking about the 2016 Best Picture winner Spotlight, which is now streaming on Netflix.
So please do check out The Fight this week and then mark your calendars for Wednesday, August 19th at 7:00 PM when we will host a virtual Q&A with Ann Arbor’s own Brigitte Amiri, whose work fighting for reproductive rights is featured in The Fight.
And it’s also a great time to update you on our partnership with the ACLU of Michigan. Thanks to your support in tuning in and purchasing I Am Not Your Negro, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, and/or Whose Streets this past June, we will be sending a donation of $125 to the ACLU of Michigan! Thank you for helping us make this possible right now.
This Friday, we have another terrific music doc with Detroit connections opening in our Virtual Movie Palace, so be sure to check out Creem: America’s Only Rock n’ Roll Magazine, which premiered at the 2019 Freep Film Festival. Let us know what you think and enjoy the rest of your week!