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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Knock Down the House follows the primary campaigns of four women -- Cori Bush (Missouri), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Paula Jean Swearengin (West Virginia), and Amy Vilela (Nevada) -- as they fight to win Democratic nominations for congressional office. Swearengin is hoping to "primary out" Senator Joe Manchin; the other three are running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. All of them are long shots; the outcomes are mixed, but their stories, while having some commonality, represent four unique, progressive individuals challenging a rooted political establishment. Viewers can expect a few curses ("bitch," "hell," "s--t"), and some footage of the Ferguson, Missouri, riots in the aftermath of a police shooting of an unarmed black teen. An occasional alcoholic beverage is consumed by some candidates and their staff during "down" moments; someone smokes a cigarette. This inspiring, informative movie is recommended for mature tweens and up. Even an awareness of the results of the four elections doesn't diminish the suspenseful and emotional journey the audience takes along with the candidates.
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What's the story?
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE scores a knockout with its depictions of four women encouraged to run for office and supported by grass roots political movements erupting throughout the United States. Not willing to be satisfied with establishment candidates, organizations such as Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress recruit "ordinary" folks to take on that establishment. The new voices portrayed in this film: Cori Bush, a nurse/pastor and mom, running against Lacy Clay, whose family has held the 1st congressional seat in Missouri since 1968. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a waitress and nonprofit activist from the Bronx, is hoping to unseat Joseph Crowley, who has held the seat in New York's 14th District for 10 years. Paula Jean Swearengin, an anti-coal advocate, vies for Senator Joe Manchin's West Virginia senate seat; Manchin, a right-leaning Democrat, has been in the Senate since 2010. Finally, Amy Vilela, a fervent advocate for health care reform, was a long-shot candidate for the open seat in Nevada's District 4. Rachel Lears' camera team follows the four progressive women as they move through the challenging struggles of underdog campaigns.
Is it any good?
This vibrant, relevant documentary, released very soon after the events it depicts -- congressional elections of 2018 -- is as fresh and inspiring as the women it showcases. Winner of the 2019 Sundance's Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Knock Down the House is a testament to Director Rachel Lears' commitment, professionalism, and instincts. She couldn't have known which, if any, of the inspirational women she opted to follow might win, and yet she compiled wonderful footage of all four of them. There are as many intimate moments with the candidates as there are public ones. Most certainly, outcomes dictated editing choices in the movie; emphasis is on the battle waged by Cortez, now a formidable voice for her community and her politics. Notably, the rooting interests here lie with the Democratic party. Cori, Alexandria, Paula Jean, and Amy are all Democrats, all novices as opposed to professional politicians, and all lean left. Highly recommended for folks of all political persuasions for its humanity and its portrait of contemporary women who are answering the call for citizen involvement in our elections.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the main purposes of documentary filmmaking: to inform, entertain, inspire, and/or persuade. Which category or categories best describe Knock Down the House? While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's name is, by this time, very well known, were you familiar with the other three women? Will you be interested to see what they do in the future?
Documentary filmmakers often set out to film a known topic or issue (e.g., the plight of elephants or climate change). In this movie, filmmaker Rachel Lears took a big risk by committing all of her resources to a story with unknown outcomes. How were Lears, her team, and her audience rewarded by her bold efforts? If none of the candidates had won her primary, how would this documentary still be of value?
What did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mean when she said "It's not about electing me to Congress. It's about electing us to Congress."? Do you agree with her statement? Why or why not?
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2019
- Cast: Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin, Amy Vilela, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
- Director: Rachel Lears
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Great Girl Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage, Humility, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, language and brief smoking
- Last updated: July 17, 2020
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