“Could this be the ‘Year of the Woman’ in politics?”
The question is posed again and again by pundits in crackly footage from the 1990s and early 2000s, during the opening of Represent, poignantly setting the tone for the ongoing battle its subjects fight.
More specifically, director Hillary Bachelder’s documentary follows the campaigns of three women working to effect change in their Midwestern communities by running for various political offices. Myya Jones, a 22-year-old mayoral candidate in Detroit, is attempting to shake up the system as a Black woman going up against an experienced white male candidate; Bryn Bird, a progressive potential township trustee, is running in the predominantly conservative town of Granville, Ohio; and Republican Julie Cho is a Korean-American vying for the office of state representative in Illinois’ liberal-learning 18th District. All three subjects face an uphill battle and experience varying degrees of success and failure throughout their campaigns.
But despite the extreme relevancy of this documentary during the 2020 election cycle, it falls short of providing much new information and tangible solutions for women in politics. The problems female candidates face in our male-dominated world have already been covered in such documentaries as Knock Down the House (2019), which follows — among others — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in her ultimately successful attempt to defeat a longstanding male incumbent in the 2018 primary elections. While Represent hints that women face a lack of financial and party-backed support for their campaigns, how to bring more support to fruition is left for viewers to ponder.
However, there is one novel element that Bachelder addresses especially well: the growing tokenism of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (aka BIPOC) women in politics. The rhetoric is certainly growing in support of this demographic, particularly for the Democratic Party, but its implementation remains largely theoretical. In the film’s most potent moments, the director depicts the racial stereotyping and tokenism that Jones and Cho encounter from constituents of both their own and opposing parties, and the discomfort of these interactions is palpable for viewers with a discerning ear for microaggressions and covert racism.
Though somewhat redundant, Represent’s exploration of gender and race gaps in politics remains welcome, especially in an election year. Viewers can still benefit from seeing these societal shortcomings play out on camera, and anything that demystifies the political process can bolster constituents to be more active and feel more empowered in their own local political scene.
Available to rent starting Aug. 21 via grailmoviehouse.com