Have you ever opened your mouth to scream but instead it felt like a swarm of bees was about to fly out? For four to six years straight? It’s no secret that if you’re a liberal in the United States, the past few years have been a little rough, emotionally speaking. When everything happening in the political world feels engineered specifically to hurt one side of the aisle, it’s easy to become disheartened. Slay the Dragon is extraordinary because it gives voice to that rage, but also engenders a sense of hope for all the people continuing to fight these battles.

Slay the Dragon is an excellent primer on the political practice of gerrymandering — what it is, how it affects communities of colors (and disproportionately communities of color), and how the Republican party has weaponized it to essentially create a voter-proof majority in many state governments.

We often hear people advocate for voting as the main means through which citizens can engage in politics (and of course that is vitally important — if you’re not registered to vote at this point please go to https://www.rockthevote.org/ and read up on what you need to do in your state to register). But as we learn in Slay the Dragon, there are situations in which districts have been so rigged that even if the democratic party won by the biggest margin they’ve ever had, they still wouldn’t pick up any additional seats.

Through this manipulation, politicians are free to push through a very specific conservative agenda without fear of retribution from their voters on election day. This, obviously, is infuriating. The sheer brazenness of their actions and the utter lack of consequences they face are enough to make you lose faith in the system entirely.

Except, it would seem, for the people documented in Slay the Dragon. We meet an idealistic young woman in Michigan with no real political experience who nonetheless spearheads a campaign to get an anti-gerrymandering proposal on the ballot in her state. There’s an energetic group of lawyers putting together a lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin for their blatant, discriminatorily partisan district maps that will be heard by the Supreme Court.

We see so many passionate individuals working tirelessly to build a fairer system. They’re always fought by those desperately clinging to power. And a lot of times, they lose. But sometimes they win. What’s especially resonant about Slay the Dragon is how it celebrates the victories with such sincerity while at the same time not allowing for complacency. And conversely, they never let the failures overshadow the tangible good these efforts do. Losing is only inevitable if people get so disheartened that they stop fighting.

Slay the Dragon has a relentlessly optimistic spirit that is genuinely inspiring in the face of such cynical political maneuvering. It combines well-researched, intellectual arguments with the passionate reform-minded efforts of grassroots organizations committed to making government work better for local communities. What’s more, it provides viewers with clear action items that will allow them to participate in the political process beyond just screaming into the void or trolling Donald Trump on Twitter. That’s pretty much the holy trinity of political documentaries.

 

My Rating

Directed by: Barak Goodman & Chris Durrance

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