Stacey Abrams tells the story of becoming her high school’s valedictorian in 1991 and being invited to the Georgia governor’s mansion for a celebration of the top students across the state.
A guard stopped Abrams and her family and said, “This is a private event. You don’t belong here.”
Eventually, Abrams was allowed entrance, but looking back now at that moment from nearly 30 years ago, she says, “I don’t remember meeting the governor of Georgia. … All I remember is that man … telling me I don’t belong.”
We hear the stories and follow the campaigns and activism of Abrams and five other inspirational grassroots superheroes, all women of color, in the powerful and absolutely vital two-part “P.O.V.” documentary “And She Could Be Next,” premiering on Monday and Tuesday on PBS. Even if you vehemently disagree with the politics of these Democratic game-changers, if you believe in equal rights of all citizens to have a platform, to be heard, to run for elected office, to fight for the underdog and the underrepresented, it’s difficult to see how you’d argue this is anything but a legitimate celebration of freedom and the American Dream.
The first part of the documentary, titled “Building the Movement,” concentrates primarily on personality profiles and campaign chronicles featuring well-known figures such as Abrams and then-candidate and now congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and largely unknown but equally impressive and dedicated elected office hopefuls Lucy McBath, who is running for Congress in Atlanta; Marina Elena Durazo, candidate for the State Senate in California; Veronica Escobar, a former judge running for Congress in El Paso, Texas; and Bushra Amiwala, a 19-year-old DePaul student running for Cook County Commissioner in the 13th District, which includes her hometown of Skokie.
Filmmakers Grace Lee and Marjan Safinia often favor a rousing, pep-rally style score to ramp up the enthusiasm for the candidates, as we seem them making cold calls to prospective voters, rallying their small but passionate armies of volunteers and campaign workers, and telling their stories. McBath was working as a flight attendant and enjoying a comfortable, middle-class life with her family when her 17-year-old son Jordan was shot and killed after a dispute over loud music coming from a car. “I have called myself an accidental activist,” she says. “This was a cultural awakening, even for me.”
Feel-good spoiler alert: Lucy McBath is now Congresswoman Lucy McBath.
The segments on Rashida Tlaib offer insightful and candid moments of the candidate in the car and at home with her two young children, who love to pepper her with questions like, “Are you going to be the president?” We also follow Tlaib’s brother, Rachid Elabed, who buys a golf cart so he can drive himself and other volunteers around the neighborhoods, going door to door to canvass. (In a much more sobering moment, post-victory, Tlaib says for security reasons she can’t have a storefront office where constituents could just walk in — not after receiving some 63 death threats. “How do you talk to your kid about that stuff?”)
Episode Two, titled “Claiming Power,” does a deep dive into the outrageous and profoundly anti-American efforts to suppress minority voting in the Georgia’s governor’s race, and includes a horrific incident involving the arrest of Georgia State Sen. Nikema Williams, who was cuffed and hauled off to jail at a protest at the state capitol.
“They said they needed to strip-search me to make sure I wasn’t hiding anything,” says Williams in an interview for the documentary. “You just removed me from the rotunda of the capital, I showed up today to vote on legislation as a sitting member of the Georgia state senate, and you think I planted something in my vaginal cavity? I refused. … I’m not taking my clothes off. … I’m not doing it.”
We also see Oprah Winfrey giving a powerful speech at an event where she addresses non-voting younger blacks: “When you sit at home … and you don’t get up and go vote, you disrespect your elders, you disregard your history, you disgrace their legacy when you don’t vote for what they were lynched for, discriminated against, humiliated for, and you can’t get up and go vote, you dishonor your legacy.”
The emotional high points include victory celebrations for Tlaib, McBath, Durazo and Escobar — but Abrams continues to fight on for the causes she believes in even after the bittersweet and ultimately losing gubernatorial campaign, and though Bushra Amiwala fell short in her bid for Cook County Commissioner, she tells a great story about getting a call from her victorious opponent (the incumbent Larry Suffredin), who met her for lunch and told her how impressed he was with her passion and heart and talent, and encouraged her to stay in the game.
Amiwala subsequently runs for a seat on the board of Skokie School District 73.5 — and wins.