Before the viral tweets, outrage over hoop earrings and gaslighting from across the aisle, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was just a bartender trying to make ends meet in the Bronx.
Those familiar with the story of Ocasio-Cortez will find delight in the latest political documentary from Netflix, “Knock Down The House.”
Over the course of the documentary’s brisk hour-and-a-half runtime, viewers witness the tireless work of four women from across the country running for congressional seats in the 2018 midterm election.
Director Rachel Lears said that after the 2016 presidential election, she reached out to progressive grassroots organizations like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress to profile prospective candidates.
Lears chose four women to highlight: Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York; Amy Vilela, D-Nevada; Cori Bush, D-Missouri; and Paula-Jean Swearengin; D-West Virginia — each with starkly different backgrounds, united for a common cause, putting political power back into the hands of the people.
The film follows all four candidates as they do the painstaking work of knocking on doors, calling constituents to fundraise, attending rallies and crushing debates.
Viewers won’t get to see that same level of energy reciprocated by the incumbent candidates that the women have decided to challenge. At one point, Ocasio-Cortez’s political opponent, Joe Crowley, didn’t even show up for a debate. Instead, Crowley opted to send one of his staffers.
Each of the women profiled reveal what their opponents have done, or not done, to address issues plaguing their community. All four have a personal stake in the competition, which only ups the level of anxiety viewers have while watching, hoping that all four take home a win.
Vilela began her campaign in Nevada shortly after her daughter died due to a pulmonary embolism, due to her lack of healthcare coverage.
Vilela reveals she immediately sold her home and turned down an executive level position in order to run against Congressman Steven Horsford.
“My daughter didn’t die for nothing,” Vilela said in the documentary.
Swearengin joined the fight for political office in West Virginia after watching her community become ravaged by the disastrous effects of coal mining. Swearengin, who lost her father in the mines, got emotional as she stared out at the Appalachian Mountains.
“Where are the jobs? We don’t have to do this. If another country came in here, blew up our mountains and poisoned our water, we’d go to war, but industry can,” Swearengin said.
The film then cuts to remarks from her opponent Sen. Joe Manchin, who has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from coal companies over the years.
Bush, a registered nurse and ordained minister, resides in Missouri. She decided to run against Congressman William Lacy Clay shortly following the death of Mike Brown. The least amount of time is spent on Bush, the sole Black candidate in the film, and little detail is provided as to what inspired her to run, other than living mere minutes away from Ferguson at the time Mike Brown was murdered.
My sole complaint about the film, other than the time it allots to each candidate, was that it was too short. I easily could’ve spent another hour watching any of these women assemble their campaigns, speak to the public and effectively shut down their haters. I’d have loved to see sit-down interviews with each of their opponents, given the slim chance that any of them would have agreed.
Though we already know the outcome, watching Ocasio-Cortez run into a bar to view the election results still brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps “A Star Is Born” would’ve been a more apropos title for this incredibly moving piece of work, which largely focuses on the rise of Ocasio-Cortez.
Despite your party preference, “Knock Down the House” is essential viewing that provides hope in what, at times, appears to be a hopeless political system.