Directed by Rachel Lears, Knock Down the House is a documentary about four women running grassroots campaigns to redefine congress so that the people are governing themselves. Tear-jerking, witty, and massively inspirational, this film is an absolute powerhouse. (JRL: 5/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker
Knock Down the House opens on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now a US congresswoman, at the beginning of her political journey. In the first scene, she stands in a hotel-room bathroom doing her makeup and discusses how complicated it is to figure out how to present yourself as a woman in politics. This down-to-Earth and personal style of presenting Ocasio-Cortez sets a precedent for the rest of the film.
The film is about the grassroots campaigns of Ocasio-Cortez and three other women: Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearingen and Amy Vilela. The four of them are attempting to uproot the practices that keep rich white men, who are far removed from the societies they represent, in power. Unsurprisingly, as it stands the system is a money game. Politicians bribe and are willing to be bribed in order to keep a political inner circle in leadership positions. Ocasio-Cortez explains that “This is not left or right. It’s up and down”; the issue is not about democrats vs. republicans, but instead about the people vs. the establishment.
Issues of wealth inequality, institutionalized racism, climate change, etc. must be solved by people who do not come out on top as a result of them. In other words, if we want these issues to be solved, we’ll have to do it ourselves because members of the establishment won’t do it for us. Knock Down the House follows Ocasio-Cortez, Bush, Swearingen and Vilela as they spread this message through their platforms. Director Rachel Lears spotlights them as they hold face-to-face conversations with people in the district they’re trying to represent, offering them nothing but respect and compassion, and win over whole crowds in their debates with promises to fight for a people that they, for once, belong to. In one particularly eye-opening scene, Ocasio-Cortez shows up to a debate with then-New York congressman Jim Crowley in the Bronx and he isn’t even there; he sent a representative to speak for him. In fact, Crowley actually lives in Virginia, not anywhere near the Bronx, clearly demonstrating how disconnected he is from the people he’s supposed to represent.
Knock Down the House is the embodiment of the idea that the personal is political. Because the women running for congress in the film are regular people, they face the same issues as the people they’re fighting for. This renders their platform (the people governing themselves) all the more powerful. For example, Amy Vilela tells a heartbreaking story about her daughter, who went to the emergency room for a blood clot but couldn’t provide proof of insurance. The hospital refused to treat her without insurance, and she died from a pulmonary embolism as a result of the delay. Vilela understands the need for universal healthcare first hand and clearly has a fire underneath her to fight for it, which is not something most of the rich white congressmen can say. Ocasio-Cortez and Bush both discuss issues of racism that they’ve faced, further demonstrating that individuals like them can represent the people better than any member of the elite because they understand and have lived through the same experiences.
Lears has created a film that is incredibly moving and politically invigorating, but it’s also quite lighthearted and charming at times. In order to show that these women really are just regular people, they are shown bantering with colleagues and family members and milling about their daily lives. They are all delightfully engaging and charismatic as they do so. There are even adorable home videos of Ocasio-Cortez as a playful and spirited girl, playing piano and pretending to be a newscaster. These heartwarming snippets are just icing on the cake of an astonishingly powerful and momentous film.
But Knock Down the House is more than just a film. It’s a part of a movement. It’s available on Netflix so that as many people as possible can access it. It is meant to spread a message to the people of the US: we do have the power to advocate for ourselves and see our country run the way we want it to. Plus, it delivers this message in the form of an incredibly enjoyable and well-made documentary. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to watch this film. Watch this film. Watch it, because Knock Down the House and the movement it’s a part of could change the face of US democracy forever.
Coach Katusha’s Comments:
Rachel Lears’ documentary Knock Down the House is a one-of-a-kind political documentary. The intimacy it develops with its lead characters drives the audience’s fascination with each of their lives. One is able to understand how personal every success and loss is, and how much strength it truly takes to run a grassroots campaign.
The ability to give the audience this experience is a great reminder of the power of cinema to change what and how people think. It is wonderful that the film has distribution on Netflix because of the amount of people it can now reach. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize the indescribable impact that viewing it in a theatre auditorium has. Julia summarizes extremely well the feelings that were being expressed in the auditorium we were at. I would also definitely recommend people to see this movie as it is educational, emotional, inspiring, and hopeful, all in one. KIZJ: 4.5/5
Q: Does Knock Down the House pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Photos: Credit to IMDB
© Julia Lasker (5/2/19) FF2 Media