Knock Down the House (2019)

“We don’t care about party. We just wanna get stuff done.”

Plenty of people will prematurely judge and blindly dismiss Knock Down the House based on personal party lines. That’s to be expected. But I’m here to tell you that this documentary is less concerned with policy making and is more wrapped up with the power of tried and true democracy. The film follows four women seeking Congressional seats and the rousing power of their collective endeavor comes from watching these ordinary ladies – these beacons for change – pursue new paths like superheroes, by staying true to themselves and their beliefs, and by exhibiting a work ethic that’s second to none. They’re never really off the clock and that they’re willing to go restless in order to get the job done. For them duty calls before the postman rings or there’s a rap at the door, and they’re willing to go door to door returning the favor until their knuckles bleed or the soles of their shoes blow out. That’s the kind of blind, hopeful belief that doesn’t come with a guaranteed warranty.

It should come as no surprise that the story behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – New York’s newest Congressional representative in the 14th district – propels most of the picture. In fact, one of my few gripes with this fluctuating film could have been solved had the documentary simply focused on its real life leading lady. Her life story is more than enough, although I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a biographical documentary about her decades from now. Having said that, Knock Down the House is still elevated by the other grass roots candidates running for office, showing how and why so many people in middle America feel forgotten, and how women in the races have to leap hurdles while men so often get to comfortably jog an untimed and unchecked 100m dash. I think people on both sides of the aisle can appreciate watching somebody try to incite necessary change. You might not agree with their ideas but it’s hard to belittle their reasoning.

Besides AOC, Knock Down the House features three other outsiders vying for a position to make a change. Due to personal reasons, Amy Vilela of Nevada passionately ran on the promise of heathcare for all. Missouri’s own Cori Bush reluctantly chose to run after experiencing the turmoil in her neighboring Ferguson. Then there’s West Virginia’s climate activist Paula Jean Swearingen, a coal-miner’s daughter and the real-life embodiment of Sally Field’s Oscar-winning role in Norma Rae. As I said before, the documentary succeeds so gracefully because it doesn’t need to drench itself in policy making or by trying to skewer its Republican opponents. Even as a Liberal, I’ve had a hard time watching Michael Moore’s most recent documentaries because they’re so manipulative. Meanwhile, his polar opposite Dinesh D’Souza legitimately makes some of the most dishonest, harmful and mainstream propagandist pieces (I can’t bring myself to call them films) of our generation. Knock Down the House surprisingly dwells in the middle ground emotionally, although it’s decisively Democrat, and is better for showing its true colors rather than waving conflicting flags in hopes of appealing to broader crowds.

I’m glad this film is on Netflix. Millions of women will have access to Rachel Lears’ well made movie and will hopefully feel emboldened to find the courage and the strength to pursue their calling despite overwhelming obstacles. And I hope men will watch it and understand the unfair, incalculable advantage so many are so often given without rhyme or reason. You don’t have to be a leftist to have a palpable reaction to watching AOC be a bar-back, to see her be rejected at homes while campaigning, to watch as she stands her ground while being confronted during town halls, or as she boldly challenges the incumbent and career Democrat Joe Crowley for his spot in Washington. What shines through most in Netflix’s latest documentary is how truth and integrity and a tireless work ethic can topple giants. David might only slay Goliath 9 times out of 10, but similarly, the women in Knock Down the House show that small wins have the potential to inspire gigantic gains.

“We can only accomplish great things together.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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