NEW YORK (CNS) — Gerrymandering, the drawing of district lines with the aim of gaining electoral advantage, has long been an element of American political life.
In fact, the man from whose name the term is derived, governor of Massachusetts and U.S. Vice President Elbridge Gerry, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In their well-crafted but distinctly partisan documentary “Slay the Dragon” (Magnolia), currently streaming on several online platforms, filmmakers Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance present a wide-ranging exploration of the history and current status of the practice. Their starting point is the struggle of a Michigan group called Voters Not Politicians to end the activity in that state.
Founded by political novice Katie Fahey, the organization faced a formidable challenge. To put the reform measure they sought — the establishment of a redistricting commission independent of the state legislature — on the ballot, they would need to collect more than 300,000 signatures.
“Slay the Dragon” also recounts events in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Nationally, the film focuses on the work of Chris Jankowski, founder of an effort called Project REDMAP whose goal was to gain Republican control of state legislatures in the election of 2010 so that GOP lawmakers would control the redistricting that followed that year’s census.
Goodman and Durrance make the case that representatives assured of reelection are likely to be more radical, less cooperative across party lines and less responsive to their constituents. In establishing the context for Fahey’s exertions, they also persuasively draw a connection between gerrymandering in Michigan and the Flint water crisis that began in 2014.
Yet their bias is unmistakable. Though they acknowledge, in passing, that both major parties have engaged in gerrymandering over the years, they place the blame for the contemporary problem almost exclusively with Republicans.
They maintain, moreover, that this is a response to the shifting demographics in this country. Rather than reach out to minority voters, they imply, the GOP has instead striven to minimize the value of their suffrage through the drawing of contrived districts — as well as through voter suppression.
Such an argument, of course, will not sit well with conservative viewers. Nor will the seemingly inevitable trotting out of those sibling bogeymen of the left, the Koch brothers.
Toward the end of the movie, there’s a fleeting barrage of vulgar language. So parents of mature adolescents with an interest in politics will have to decide whether the educational value of “Slay the Dragon” as a whole outweighs this momentary lapse into coarseness.
For online viewing information, visit www.slaythedragonfilm.com/watch-at-home.
The film contains some rough terms, a couple of crude expressions and a mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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