Thursday, January 16, 2020
Nate Hood on Slay the Dragon (2019) NY Social Justice Film Festival 2020
The film examines project REDMAP, a top-secret gerrymandering program implemented by the Republican Party in the wake of the 2008 Blue Wave that saw the election of Barack Obama and Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate. Described by political writer David Daley as “the most audacious political heist in modern times,” REDMAP targeted with surgical precision individual races in key swing districts in key swing states, ensuring Republicans would gain control of numerous embattled state legislatures in time for the 2010 census where national districting maps would be redrawn…by the states themselves. Using their new collection of legislatures, they hastily gerrymandered these states to oblivion, making it impossible for Democrats to ever win a majority number of state senators, national Senators, or House Representatives even if they got a super-majority of the votes. Once they had this power, Republican officials would never need worry about losing elections again, allowing them to pass sweeping and wildly unpopular legislation breaking unions, repealing environmental regulations, and rescinding tax rates for the wealthy.
The film itself is presented as a police procedural in medias res, exploring precisely how Republicans broke the system, disenfranchised voters, and helped usher in the Trump era while also charting the frantic grassroots movements fighting back, primarily Michigan activist Katie Fahey who founded the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative to criminalize gerrymandering in her state. Fahey’s movement started a domino effect which spread to other swing state ballot initiatives which finally climaxed at the Supreme Court. Crushingly, they punting the issue of gerrymandering back into local state courts nine days before Justice Anthony Kennedy—the sole swing voter capable of saving their case from a party line vote—announced his retirement, dooming any hope for judicial accountability.
Slay the Dragon is brilliant, anxiety-inducing filmmaking which will sink your stomach, make you cheer, and stay with you long after you leave the theater. It’s bitter yet necessary medicine.