There are some things related to politics that should not be political at all — first and foremost, citizens’ right to vote. Unfortunately, that right has been infringed upon in multiple ways through the years, including voter ID laws, the closing of polling stations, and a redistricting process known as “gerrymandering.”
It’s that last concept that is the focus of the new documentary, Slay the Dragon (so-named because one of the first weirdly drawn districts resembled a dragon). Directors Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance go into great detail about how gerrymandering, which has been in existence for over 200 years in the United States, has recently become a political weapon used relentlessly by politicians and interest groups to hold onto power. While both Democrats and Republicans have engaged in carving up districts to their liking, it is Republicans who have taken it to a whole new level since the 2008 election.
There are not two sides to the argument in the film; the filmmakers unequivocally denounce gerrymandering and use that viewpoint to follow different groups looking to challenge or change it. One such group is Voters Not Politicians in Michigan, led by then-executive director Katie Fahey. Fahey led the charge to get an initiative on the ballot in 2018 to amend Michigan’s constitution to make gerrymandering illegal.
VNP argued that the decision on where to draw lines of districts in Michigan and elsewhere should lie with an independent panel, not legislators whose inherent political bias would lead them to manipulate maps unfairly. With the 2020 census on the horizon, the results of which allow state governments to redistrict again, their fight and the fights in other states was of the utmost importance.
Goodman and Durrance do an effective job of explaining a somewhat complicated idea so that anyone can understand how it’s done and what its effects on the voters are. Even if you were already familiar with the term, seeing how the lines are precisely drawn to effectively cancel out the votes of one party is still shocking.
But the film is not all doom and gloom. When she founded Voters Not Politicians, Fahey was in her mid-20s with no previous political experience. To see how she and her growing army of volunteers went from a pipe dream to success in the face of huge resistance should be inspiring to anyone who thinks they can’t make a difference.
Slay the Dragon shines the light on something that, while not as sexy and well-known as candidate campaigns, is just as important in our democracy as anything else. It’s required viewing for anyone with a political bent, or for those who want to ensure the voting rights of generations to come.
Slay the Dragon will be available on April 3 on multiple streaming platforms, including Apple TV, Prime Video, and Google Play, as well as on demand on most major cable platforms.