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Why Stacey Abrams Wanted to Make Sure Voting Doc ‘All In’ Was Not About Her

“She really felt that as soon as you make it about one person, it can be written off,” says director Liz Garbus of her and Lisa Cortes’ sobering documentary

AWARDS BEAT

These days, the political documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy” might well be known as the Stacey Abrams movie. That’s partly because the politician and activist was such a galvanizing figure in the 2020 presidential race in Georgia, working to boost minority participation and fight voter suppression, and in the process helping to deliver the White House to Joe Biden by turning her state blue for the first time in decades.

In the aftermath of the election, any movie featuring Abrams might suddenly become a hot property. But “All In” would have felt like a Stacey Abrams movie regardless of what happened on Nov. 3. In Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés’ sobering, wide-ranging documentary, she’s both an articulate guide to how tactics have been used for decades to limit Black access to the polls, and an example of suppression in action through footage of her unsuccessful 2018 run for governor. Her opponent in that election, Brian Kemp, also happened to be the Georgia secretary of state, a job that gave him the power to oversee elections (and close polling places in predominantly Black areas).

But in a recent interview with TheWrap, Garbus and Cortés said that Stacey Abrams was adamant that “All In” should not be the Stacey Abrams movie.

“She came to us to discuss the concept of a film about the long history of the fight for the right to vote,” Garbus said. “Lisa and I met with her and quickly understood that there was an important film here, but it also needed the beating heart of Stacey Abrams. It needed that personal story.”

The problem was that Abrams had been approached many times by filmmakers interested in making a movie about her run for governor. “It would be an exciting film, but she really felt that as soon as you make it about one person, it can be written off,” Garbus said. “People would say, ‘Oh, that’s Georgia, or that’s Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams.’ You need to see it in the larger context. So for Lisa and for me, that magic trick was how to give the story a beating heart, but also give it that context.”

But Abrams resisted becoming that beating heart?

“Well, I think initially, her instinct was to make certain that the bigger story was the focus,” Cortés said haltingly.

Yes! She did resist!” Garbus interrupted.

“Right,” Cortés conceded. “We certainly incorporated more of her in our initial cuts than she might’ve expected. But then she basically put on her producer hat and understood the importance of incorporating her story and connecting it to this bigger history.”

The film had a limited theatrical release in early September and premiered on Amazon Prime Video later in the month; it was always a priority for Garbus, Cortés and Abrams that the movie come out before the election. But since Nov. 3, Abrams has been as busy as she was leading up to Election Day, because the fate of the United States Senate hinges on two runoff elections in Georgia.

And that means that while Garbus and Cortés are in constant touch with Abrams, they don’t see her all that often. “She has a lot of work to do,” Garbus said of Abrams, who was given the honor of officially announcing that Georgia’s 16 electoral votes had gone to Biden on Monday, the same day that early voting in the stage began.

“One of the things the film speaks to is a kind of righteous indignation,” Cortés said. “There are so many obstacles to voting — people have to wait on these long lines, and all of these things happen. But once you see it as a deliberate scheme to not represent my community, then you inspire people. There’s a line in the film where somebody says, ‘If your vote didn’t matter, they would be working so hard to take it away from you.’

“I think that that dialogue with the film is still really important, and that’s what’s happening in Georgia right now.”

An interview with Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés about “All In: The Fight for Democracy” will appear in the upcoming documentary issue of TheWrap magazine.