Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Gerrymandering

If we stipulate that gerrymandering is a pox on the American political process, do we have to sit through a documentary that makes that case in the most earnest, predictable way possible? Jeff Reichert’s Gerrymandering looks at the history and hassles of redistricting, and how politicians of both parties have worked to isolate minorities and independents and assure that their respective decks remain well-stacked for election day. In theory, districts are meant to be reshaped rarely: after a census, primarily, when the number of local representatives gets reapportioned. But increasingly, political parties find reasons to get their maps and blue pencils out after they acquire a majority, so that they can consolidate and prolong that power. Legislators find ways to rope in prisons (which grants them constituents to whom they don’t really have to answer), and they find ways to spite opponents and effectively disenfranchise entire voting blocs. As California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says in a speech documented in Gerrymandering, “The legislators are picking the voters,” not the other way around.


Reichert uses the 2008 campaign for California’s Proposition 11—a measure designed to take the power to redistrict away from the state legislature—as a through-line for the film. He detours to cover the much-publicized story of Texas Democrats decamping to Oklahoma a few years back to try and prevent the Republican majority from redrawing lines in their favor, and the story of how Barack Obama’s political career benefited directly from redistricting in Chicago. Reichert mixes in man-on-the-street interviews and cartoony animation, and keeps Gerrymandering lively and non-partisan, but also completely unchallenging. None of those responsible for gerrymandering are confronted directly and asked to explain themselves, and no real solutions are proposed beyond “demand change.” At the start of Gerrymandering, Reichert quotes Thomas Pynchon, writing, “Nothing will produce bad history more directly nor brutally than drawing a line.” The same could be said of documentaries.

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