Tribeca 2019: "Slay The Dragon" Review
A secretive gerrymandering initiative launched 10 years ago threatens to undermine democracy as we know it, “Slay the Dragon” depicts the everyday people fighting this practice to make their votes matter.
Per the documentary, a well-funded partisan initiative poured money into state legislative races in key swing states to gain control of their redistricting processes and used high-tech analytics to dramatically skew voting maps based on demographic data after the 2008 election. The result is one of the greatest electoral manipulations in U.S. history, one that poses a fundamental threat to our democracy and exacerbates the already polarized atmosphere in Congress and state houses across the country.
Gerrymandering is the practice of redrawing electoral maps to serve the party in power. It is not a new philosophy, however. In fact, it has been around for centuries. But in today’s hyper-partisan political arena, it has been taken to unprecedented extremes, fueled by the elimination of corporate campaign contribution limits and the availability of vast amounts of personal information.
This documentary, directed by Barak Goodman and Chris Durance, is enlightening even for the well informed citizen. It is beautifully infuriating and begs for a call to action. It is polished like the politicians it presents and perfectly articulates the waning faith in democracy across the country. It is bias to a fault, but listening to Chris Janikowski—with all the wiles and smiles—boast his “redmapping” project of 2010 is stomach-turning. That is, I’m all for this bias narrative.
That being said, we also experience hope in the form of Katie Fahey, a Michigander who forms the group Voters Not Politicians working to bring a measure onto the state’s ballot to require an independent group—not the legislature—to draw these aforementioned lines. And in Wisconsin, an activist group challenges the state’s redistricting in a case that makes its way to the US Supreme Court. Voters Not Politicians breathes life on the fire that is hope, and offers a glimmer of positivity in a documentary that is otherwise quite depressing.
Unless, of course, you are a conservative reader. As a year in politics, 2010 was the dam break that opened the levy to a tsunami of republican reform, bringing in a wave of conservative laws and bills in its aftermath. The writing on the wall, however, is that America is getting more diverse, more educated, and the republicans feel their time is dwindling.
Any practice that allows for elected officials to dismiss accountability is an unsafe one. More importantly, you can draw a direct line—no pun intended—from oppressive voter ID laws to election results. If it weren’t for a compelling narrative structure, I would’ve stormed out of the theater. It truly was a well done documentary, but above anything else, “Slay the Dragon” reminds us what is wrong with our democracy. It is split at the seams and we have to find a way to heal the wounds.