John Lewis as Himself
Directed by Dawn Porter
The film explores Georgia representatives, 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health care reform, and immigration.
John Lewis: Good Trouble Review
Documentaries are a tricky genre to tackle from a critical perspective. Particularly those about an individual, who is painted either in a righteous or disturbing light depending on the goals of the filmmaker. It’s remarkable how much different a subject can look when you position the camera at another angle.
That’s not a condemnation of John Lewis: Good Trouble, Dawn Porter’s latest documentary that details the life of the famed Georgia representative who stood against racism and played a vital role in the Civil Rights movement. Except to say, this particular biopic stops just short of becoming one of those cheesy campaign ads we typically see running during daytime soap operas. The only thing lacking is the counter — you know, the bit where the screen turns black and white, and ominous music plays over degrading shots of the opposition while a scary voice-over outlines all their flaws? — and a bold call to action at the end.
The documentary is still an interesting watch mainly because of how eerily it seems to speak to our current political climate. It’s crazy to see protestors from the 1960s battling police officers in a manner similar to those on the news today; and the media moguls lapping up the coverage. Such moments beg the question: has anything really changed in our country? Or did we merely sweep a majority of our issues under the rug?
Despite vehement oppression from the public and media during those turbulent times, Lewis preached peace and urged his fellow man not to follow the violent nature of their aggressors. Seek to be as “loving and forgiving in any situation,” Lewis says at one point, followed by a bizarre scene of protestors-in-training — they are told to stand idle while actors verbally abuse them. That’s certainly something I’ve never seen before, and it made me sad that anyone would have to undergo such abuse in order to prepare to stand for something they believed in.
Tellingly, the best moments of Good Trouble involve those featuring Lewis standing alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. during historical moments such as the Selma March. This guy interacted with some of the greats, including MLK and Bobby Kennedy, and changed our country for the better. Last night I played The Last of Us Part II … if anything, Good Trouble told me I should probably get off my ass and do a lot more than I’m doing. Men like Lewis put their lives on the line for the betterment of mankind: he was arrested over 40 times during the Civil Rights movement; and another five times during his time as a House member. What did you do today?
There are other aspects of the film I enjoyed. I liked the behind-the-scenes glances of Lewis prepping for House meetings and his team’s reaction to the live voting results. I was also moved by the section in which Lewis reflects on his wife, who passed away in 2012. I wanted more of these moments.
As is, John Lewis: Good Trouble often feels more like political propaganda than a biography. There’s even a lengthy section devoted to urging people to vote juxtaposed with interviews with democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
I wanted to hear more about Lewis’ exploits in the 60s; and more about the 1963 March on Washington, as well as his personal relationship with MLK and Kennedy. Lewis worked hard and continues to work hard to inspire change in this country — we could all learn a thing or two from his life story.