After dealing with a narcissist in the White House for four years, it may be difficult to imagine a politician who doesn’t make everything about themself. But consider Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, who nearly won election in 2018 to become the country’s first Black woman governor.
After that campaign made Abrams a national figure and an inspiration to Democrats, documentary directors came-a-calling, she says, but she turned them down.
“I had been asked by many different filmmakers to consider doing a documentary about my race [for governor], about my story,” Abrams tells Deadline. She said she declined because what interested her wasn’t a documentary about herself, but one on voter suppression.
“My deep concern with how I’d been approached is that it would become essentially a partisan story about me,” Abrams explains. “And for those who did not want my success, it would give them a reason to ignore the narrative, to ignore the challenge…Really what I wanted from this film was a very sharp conversation about the state of our democracy and the minute it is centered on a single politician, it becomes about that person and their winning and losing.”
Abrams decided to make the film she wanted to see. The result, All In: The Fight for Democracy, made the Oscar shortlist and is on the ballot for an Academy Award nomination. The Amazon Studios film, produced by Abrams and directed and produced by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés, focuses on the nation’s long history of denying the right to vote to African-Americans and other people of color.
“The through line of voter suppression is an attempt to keep those who will disagree with the existing power structure from having influence on creating a new power structure,” Abrams observes. “And in present-day parlance, it is to maintain a Republican Party that is increasingly distanced from a demographically diverse nation. Donald Trump is the most perfect example of it in recent memory because he did his voter suppression out loud and every day. He was very clear about who he didn’t want to include…He said in early 2020 If certain communities get to vote, he couldn’t win.”
Abrams’ own narrow loss to Republican Brian Kemp has been attributed to voter suppression. From 2010-2018 Kemp served as Georgia’s secretary of state, the official in charge of state elections. Over his eight years in that office, Kemp purged 1.4 million people from voter rolls because they hadn’t voted in recent elections. That, coupled with closing and relocating polling places, disproportionately affected Black voters.
Ironically, Kemp’s future political prospects may have been damaged by a different kind of electoral dispute. He enjoyed the hearty support of President Trump when he ran for governor in 2018. But in 2020, after Trump lost the state to Joe Biden in the presidential contest, Trump relentlessly attacked Kemp for refusing to overturn the result.
Abrams says there’s a lesson in that.
“That brings to mind an old fable about a scorpion that asks for a ride on the back of a frog,” Abrams comments. “If you’re willing to get with someone like that, you got to deal with the consequences.”
Abrams declined to share with Deadline whether she intends to run for governor again in 2022. Her profile has only increased in the past year, with many crediting her voter registration efforts for Biden’s victory in Georgia, and the victory of Democratic senatorial candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia runoff elections in January.
Abrams has her work cut out for her to protect voting rights going forward. Republican-controlled legislatures in Georgia and other states are readying bills that would restrict access to the polls, a response to the heavy voter turnout by African-American and other minority voters in 2020. Abrams advocated for HR 1, the voting rights bill that passed the U.S. House last week, which provides for automatic voter registration and sets national standards for voting by mail.
“Democracy shouldn’t change based on your zip code if you live in the United States,” Abrams insists. “[In 2020] in Georgia it was vote by mail with no excuses, in Alabama it was vote by mail with some excuses, and in Mississippi it was nearly no opportunity to vote by mail. These are three states that sit cheek by jowl and share very similar populations yet the access to democracy differed wildly.”
She adds, “There are lists of things we can do to right-size our democracy to make certain that it is a uniform democracy. It doesn’t remove from the states their ability to enforce it, but it does remove from the states their ability to decide who gets democracy and who doesn’t.”
While that fight continues, in the near term Abrams may be keeping an eye on the “primary” for Oscar contenders. Nomination balloting closes Wednesday and nominees will be announced March 15. A positive outcome would bring recognition to Abrams and to her two foremost collaborators on All In, directors Garbus and Cortés.
“Luckily,” she says, “I teamed up with two extraordinary filmmakers.”
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