People who loved The West Wing (wise and sensible people) often talk about how much they wish that real American politics and politicians where like those in the show. This was true during Bush’s time in The White House but is doubly true now that Trump is the Commander in Chief. (It was less of an issue during Obama’s presidency as even though it was all broadcast before 2008, the young Senator from a minority background who won the election in the last season of The West Wing was actually based on a then up and coming Barack Obama.)
Happily this new Netflix documentary gives those West Wing fans what they dreamt of; a vision of an America where those in positions of power are driven by integrity and what is best for the people not self preservation and big business connections, where politics is driven by selflessness not greed, where respect wins electoral races and, to reflect the fictional world of TV even more, where those involved are generally better looking than we are.
Knock Down the House is the story of how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defied all expectation to become the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. As well as Ocasio-Cortez the film also features three other women running for Congress in the primary elections; Amy Vilela of Nevada, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia. It isn’t their story as much because history had other ideas for them but the way events are presented their narratives are a part of hers and her victory also partly theirs.
Clearly when the film was being made they didn’t know who the protagonist was, none of the candidates were expected to win, but all of these women are inspiring and present real hope for the future. The four candidates ran as Democrats for the Brand New Congress group who aim to elect hundreds of new congressional representatives from ordinary members of the general public rather than those with millions of dollars and friends in high places. All of these women have important reasons for putting themselves forwards, especially Vilela and Swearengin, which adds to the film and the emotion of their victories and defeats.
The film does play the details a little. It looks like a fly on the wall documentary, this being a story that tells itself, but there are some small manipulation of the facts. This may be by omission rather than elaboration but I’m sure a small amount of homework would unearth a few things that reframe what you see. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, is portrayed as a being little more than a New York waitress and a bartender when she starts her campaign, a young woman with a fierce intellect uncharacteristic of her lowly position. No mention is made of how she majored in international relations and economics at Boston University graduating cum laude because that doesn’t work as well dramatically.
In the end though this takes nothing away from the courage, vision and integrity of these women and it is thrilling to see that this kind of politician exists in fact as well in as fiction. Knock Down the House is a straight forward but compelling film and it is hard not to get swept up in the emotion of everything. It has an ending as up lifting as any Hollywood feature and brings a sense of hope that all of this might actually just be the beginning.