No stranger to excellent and timely documentaries, Magnolia Pictures presents THE FIGHT, a powerful study of the ACLU, the firewall erected to protect every U.S. citizen’s rights. Directed by Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres, THE FIGHT was an official selection of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and makes its world premiere in July 2020.
Clearly, the ACLU is populated by a scrappy bunch of lawyers ready to fight the good fight – even when the odds seem stacked against them. THE FIGHT follows only a handful of ACLU attorneys, each charged with a specific section of the law – even though each willingly offers his time and effort to the others. We have Lee Gelernt, charged with cases regarding immigration; Brigitte Amiri, handling cases involving reproductive rights; Dale Ho, joining in arguments about voting rights; and Josh Block and Chase Strangio, standing up against abuses associated with LGBT rights.
In order to examine the intricacies – and consequent professional and personal challenges – THE FIGHT fleshes out only a small number from the extensive ACLU case roster, typically during the Trump term of office beginning in 2017. To this end, the film opens with a massive nighttime protest on the steps of a Brooklyn courthouse fueled by Trump’s ban on Moslems entering the U.S. Civil liberties were put to the test – and, in this one case, Gelernt won the day. Even if a later modification by the Trump team was finally adopted, showing that triumphs may be brief. But being the hot button issue that immigration is, Gelernt was soon called in to fight Trump’s family separation ruling (Ms. L v. ICE). Despite some success, over 1,000 children still remain separated from their families.
When Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), unilaterally decided that a 17-year-old ICE detainee could not have an abortion (despite her assertion that she had been raped), Amiri and ACLU attorney Meagan Burrows rushed in to become the minor’s voice in the halls of justice. Despite their initial success, the same issue continues to come up among pregnant immigrant women.
LGBT specialist lawyers Block and Strangio proved to have their hands full when, by executive order, Trump decided that transgenders would not be permitted to serve in the military. Plagued by ACLU opposition, Trump eventually determined that transgender individuals already serving in the military service could remain – but that transgenders from the community would not be permitted to enlist. The fight goes on.
Finally, David Ho asserted civil rights in multiple voter suppression cases. Most recently, he led the charge to prevent one question being added to the 2020 Census – whether or not the respondent was a citizen. In a message to the public, Legal ACLU Director David Cole and Jeffrey Robinson, Deputy Legal Director, defended civil liberties for all – even if many might not agree with the client’s point of view. Thus, the ACLU even defended the right of the far right to march in Charlottesville, North Carolina – an event which resulted in chaos and bloodshed.
THE FIGHT is a powerful, inspiring, exciting, and intense film about the never-ending combat for human rights – and yet has a softer side as ACLU staff find that their commitment to their beliefs and their client’s needs sometimes causes them to ignore their own needs and the needs of their families. Editor Greg Finton’s carefully selected series of vignettes about real people has the ring of authenticity. Although the vicissitudes of modern technology may sometimes elude these innovative warriors, they are ready to stand their ground and fight their cases all the way up to the Supreme Court. The entire production team has done a bang-up job of focusing – and keeping – audience attention on the goal. Animation director Arvid Steen has also cleverly woven some hand-drawn sketches into the real world. THE FIGHT slyly engages both the minds and the hearts of its audience.
THE FIGHT runs for 96 minutes. The film will release in theaters and on demand on July 31, 2020.