' ' Cinema Romantico: Represent

Monday, August 24, 2020


The title “Represent” bears a double-edged meaning. It is not just that director Hillary Bachelder’s three subjects are running for various positions of representation within their local governments but how their attempts shine a stark light on our continuing need for greater diversity in that representation. Women, not just men, young and old, black and white and Asian, or maybe just Americans, as the Asian-American Julie Cho running for the State House in Illinois says, suggesting how such diversity implicitly expresses our ideals. “Represent’s” two other women, Bryn Bird and Myya Jones, juxtapose small town and big city values, the former seeking the position of trustee in her rural Ohio town while the latter tries to launch a campaign for Mayor of Detroit. Talking head interviews with all three women are sprinkled throughout, and Bachelder provides swooping aerial shots of the communities in question, but “Represent” best honors its plain intimacy by maintaining a fly on the wall approach, the camera observing by just sort of hanging around, capturing political campaigning as bare bones operations rather than complex command centers.

For Cho, door-to-door canvassing underscores not only the necessity of truly reaching out to each constituent for each vote at a local level but the almost herculean task running as a Republican in a blue district (Evanston, IL). If she is focusing on her own community, stressing that a representative works for his/her constituents, rather than the whole country, she carries the burden of Trump nonetheless. That makes her radioactive to Democrats, as we see, though her stated platform is ridding the district of gerrymandering, giving the people of color a voice, and infiltrating a party overrun with old white folks who, in one painful scene Cho handles with grace, we see she has to reach out to anyway. This is not Both Sides, either in a satiric or sincere sense, but how the lines both blur and keep us apart.

Bird, on the other hand, is a progressive in a conservative town, though “Represent” sees her story less through a political lens than the struggle of running for office as both a woman, a mother and a member of the community. Nearly each scene of Bird talking strategy or campaigning includes a simultaneous need for familial obligation, pushing a baby stroller as she stumps her for herself while walking in a parade, while the after-effects of her campaign yield as many personal and professional ramifications as rewards that go to show it’s not just the bigwig bureaucrats in the Beltway getting harangued at restaurants who suffer.

Her own story is contrasted against that of a current trustee against whom she is running, also a woman, who explains of feeling excluded in her role, forced to walk on eggshells around her fellow males lest they simply ignore her. They may differ in values, but their plights mirror one another, and as Bird adopts a strategy of asking people to only vote for her, no one else, she is helping herself while harming a fellow woman, a political consequence Bachelder is content to let speak for itself. This game plan is hashed out in a scene at Bird’s kitchen table, her child wailing in the background, ostensible down-home politics cast as quietly cutthroat.

Jones has the nigh insurmountable obstacle of not only being a woman but being black and being young, just out of college. One citizen she talks to, who is also black, explains his reluctance to vote for her because only white people get things done as Mayor because only white people have the necessary clout simply on account of their skin, a harsh judgment Jones hardly knows how to answer. Others question her age. “How old are you?” one asks with a condescending smirk. If her lack of experience is not glossed over, it is also readily met by Jones’s heartbreaking observation that “As a young black woman, my life is not promised.” No political analyst has an answer for that kind of harsh truth.

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