In 2002, a lot of documentaries about 9/11 were released. In 2009, it was economics and the recession. 2020 is proving to be the year of the political documentary, as something about the country’s two most recent elections apparently triggered every documentarian’s spidey senses. Earlier this month, The Fight and Boys State (both exceptional) chronicled different aspects of the elections and how they impact our everyday lives. Now comes Represent, the feature directorial debut from filmmaker Hillary Bachelder with a laser focus on the journeys of three women running for office in the Midwest. The film skillfully understands that by limiting its own scope, there’s an opportunity to invest deeply in each of the women’s stories, to follow them over an extended period of time and learn more about the long road to elected office each of them travels.
The women at the center of the film are Myya, a young Black woman in Detroit who mounts a write-in campaign for mayor; Bryn, an independent farmer and mother in the very white rural Ohio town of Granville, running for Township Trustee; and Julia, a Korean-American Republican running for State Representative in the decidedly progressive Chicago suburb of Evanston. The three women could not be more different, but were their paths ever to cross, they’d find they have much in common given their experiences running for (and sometimes winning) elected office. Each of them is up against seemingly impossible odds, and each of them possesses the determination, the intelligence and the confidence required to throw one’s name in the proverbial hat.
Though far from the scale of other female politicians running for higher office (hey, Kamala!), following these three local campaigns is just as compelling, as the women navigate very local, very real obstacles and expectations from their respective communities. Myya has to push back over and over again when people repeatedly tell her she’s way too young to know what she’s getting into. Bryn isn’t shy about bringing her youngest daughter everywhere, proving (like Tammy Duckworth once did) that mothers can be lawmakers. And Julia is fighting an uphill battle from day one, trying to prove to her liberal neighbors that there’s more to her than her party affiliation.
Every new hurdle is a chance to prove themselves, however, and the women are unrelenting in their mission to do so. They enlist friends, family and anyone else they can recruit to join them in their on-the-ground efforts, canvassing door to door, making calls, building campaign strategies. It all advances their message, of course, but more than that, it sets admirable and indelible examples for those watching closely. Just by showing up, they prove it’s possible for anyone to do the same. Taken together, it’s the very definition of grassroots, ordinary citizens stepping up to participate in their local democracy in order to have a positive impact on their community.
With more political documentaries on the radar than ever, Represent excels by understanding what it is and allowing that focus to be a strength, not a weakness. Though films like Knock Down the House, the 2019 documentary notable for chronicling Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s successful run for office, might be better known to politically minded audiences, Represent deserves just as much attention for the stories it tells from the trenches. Because after all, even AOC started somewhere; who’s to say it can’t be Myya, Julia, Bryn…or you…next?
Represent is now streaming through Music Box Theatre’s virtual cinema.