Film Review: American Blackout
By Lorenzo Fiorito
American Blackout makes your blood boil. You see the evidence for yourself. You watch as Black American voters are consistently stripped of the right to vote; from the presidential elections in Florida in 2000 to those in Ohio in 2004. You’re angry, and rightly so. The film’s name comes from a list of voting machines in Columbus, Ohio, in predominantly Black neighbourhoods. At least one machine per precinct was removed; on the list, they were blacked out. A felons’ list that disqualified 90,000 voters, most of whom had never committed a felony, helped Bush win in Florida by exactly 537 votes. The voters’ races are abbreviated next to their names.
American Blackout was produced by the Guerrilla News Network (GNN), an Internet-based hub of American liberal discourse, in 2005. It follows Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, a Black representative from Georgia, as the lone member of Congress to challenge the Bush Administration by asking the hard questions.
Through the 2000 election, through 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, through Bush’s re-election, she looks for answers but hits roadblocks at every turn. McKinney’s journey through the years 2000 to 2005 is also the setting for a larger story: an American society increasingly stripped of illusions in the democratic system, and increasingly pushed outside the margins of the political debate. This film is explicitly intended as a voting leaflet for the Internet generation, but the courage and inspiration that emanate from the film’s characters seems hollow. If they’re not allowed to vote, how is voting the solution?
A particularly moving scene replays footage of a 1960’s civil rights march, where disenfranchised Black Americans were beaten by police for merely asking for the right to vote. In a voice-over, Congressman John Lewis describes how he suffered a concussion during that march, after a policeman beat him on the head with a nightstick. The story moves on to footage of Black Republicans, beneficiaries of that heritage of struggle, justifying the vote-counting practices which brought the Bush Administration back to power.
In Quebec, we are still reflecting on the rise of the ADQ on the basis of immigrant-bashing and antigay slurs. Like Florida and Ohio, we have a new permanent list of electors in Quebec, and if you’re not on the list, you can’t vote. Apathy may be boring, but it’s enough to make you wonder: has democracy come to a point where the formalities conceal its true content?