Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg, and Eli B. Despres’ 2020 documentary, The Fight, is a film that is an important watch for anyone: those who closely follow U.S. news, those who pay little to no attention to U.S. news, or children who would like to one day become a lawyer. Though the most crucial demographic that would benefit from watching this documentary would be school-aged children who, in the most ideal curriculum, would learn about the world around them, modern landmark cases, and systematic injustices through the narrative of this film paired with the New York Times’ The 1619 Project.
The Fight manages to tackle emotionally and informationally overwhelming subject matter in a way that is not only concise but also sensitive, respectful, and exhilarating. As each of the ACLU lawyers pursue their respective cases, Lee Gelernt’s immigrants’ rights case, Ms. L v. ICE; Brigitte Amiri’s reproductive rights case, Garza v. Hargan; Dale Ho’s voting rights case, the Department of Commerce v. New York; and Josh Block and Chase Strangio’s LGBTQ+ rights case, Stone v. Trump, the directors provide the audience with as much information regarding the case and the process of litigating that case while also letting them into the human lives of the lawyers and their clients. What this documentary successfully accomplishes is making its audience care about changes that are happening around them in the midst of, what feels to be, an unceasing barrage of chaos. While in the everyday news cycle, it may be difficult or even impossible for an audience member to differentiate what shapes massive change on a legal level from the consequences that are derived by those legal rulings, The Fight distills four major landmark cases into their most basic definitions, thereby showing its audience how we as a society have arrived to the place we are now and how we go about fighting for change in this new landscape.
Although The Fight focuses nearly entirely on the work of five affable and tireless ACLU lawyers, the most significant aspect of its narrative is that it does not define the ACLU based on its selected protagonists. Rather than imply that the ACLU is an always righteous and infallible institution because of its focus on the work and lives of the five ACLU lawyers, Gelernt, Amiri, Ho, Block, and Strangio, the documentarians expose the negative aspects of the ACLU. Specifically, they focus on the directors’ blind pursuit of defending all rights to protest and freedom of speech, as best exemplified by their focus on the ACLU’s defending of the Neo-Nazi organisers’ right to assemble for the infamously violent and racist “Unite the Right” rally and David Cole and Jeffrey Robinson’s refusal to take accountability for their actions and the inadvertent part they played in the murder of Heather Heyer.
The Fight distills a multi-dimensional narrative into a film that impresses upon its audience the human toll of an unjust government while conveying that every individual is capable of educating themselves and finding ways that they can influence the world in which they live. This is a documentary that manages to do what seems to be impossible in a world that divides families, denies people their basic human rights, and attempts to discount and invalidate us: it inspires hope.