Movies that Make You Want to Vote

It’s less than a week before the election, which means political movies are being released by the dozens to try to persuade undecided voters and motivate decided ones to actually vote. Three of these films, though different in presentation, all end with the exact same message: “Go Vote!”

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Amazon Prime

It’s been fourteen years since Sacha Baron Cohen charmed and alarmed audiences as the goofy Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev in Borat. In the sequel mockumentary, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Cohen reprises the role, offering up an easy dose of laughter.

In the original, Borat was making a documentary about life in the “U.S. and A,” which he did by driving across the country in an ice cream truck. In Subsequent Moviefilm, Borat returns to the United States with a bribe for Vice President Mike Pence, so the Kazakh leader can join “the strongman club.” The gift? Johnny the Monkey: Kazakhstan’s minister of culture and No. 1 porn star.

The film takes a little while to get going. Borat doesn’t have the free reign he once did, and not just because of the restrictions of the pandemic. He’s hounded on the street by fans and has to resort to a coterie of disguises. Determined to find Pence, Borat and his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) acquire a truckload of costumes and embark on a road trip to Washington, D.C.

Along the way, they meet up with various Americans—debutantes, shop owners, QAnon supporters—all appearing as themselves and unaware that they are reacting to a fictional character. (All, apparently, signed contracts without reading them too carefully). But the reason it works isn’t because of the stunt, or the anti-quarantine rallies, or even the fertility dance by Cohen in an early scene. It works because, at heart, it’s a character comedy, driven by our love for this cheery reporter, and his love for his daughter.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is more silly than scathing, but it also has moments of seriousness with an emphasis on the value of human rights. Though the premise in the script by Cohen, Anthony Hines, and Dan Swimer might seem risque to some—and it does get a bit raunchy at times—this is a comedy aimed at our country’s prejudice, with jokes pointed at a President who puts children in cages and brags about sexual assault.

The moments that have people talking are when Borat sneaks into Trump’s CPAC rally, carrying Tutar over his shoulder, and a later scene in which his daughter interviews Rudy Giuliani, then ends up in his bed. It’s not the first time Borat has caught the United States with its pants down. But for goodness sake, let’s hope it’s the last.

What the Constitution Means to Me – Amazon Prime

The core message of this documentary—that the Constitution fails to protect us from discrimination—is a valuable one at any time, but it’s especially relevant now. What the Constitution Means to Me thoughtfully explores how the Constitution was written in 1787, and why it needs to be changed today. 

It’s a perfect match of subject and filmmaker. Director Marielle Heller previously made the award-winning documentary Won’t You be My Neighbor, a warm, poignant film about Mr. Rogers, and the impact he had on a generation. Her films are sunny yet pointed, determined to root out the truth. What the Constitution Means to Me is similarly sharp eyed and captures Heidi Schreck’s Broadway play of the same name on film.

Schreck plays her fifteen-year-old self, when she competed at Constitutional debates, which she reenacts here, on stage, in front of 500 people at the Hayes Theater in New York City.

The result is neither a civics lesson nor a propaganda piece. Instead, it’s a two-hour rant, first from the perspective of Schreck at fifteen, then at forty-eight. She digs into specific clauses, points out how the word “woman” never appears in the Constitution, and touches on rape, abortion, racism, domestic violence, and other timely/timeless topics. Without getting too bleak, she leaves us with one simple fact: The Constitution can only change if we, the people, change it.

White Noise – Google Play

White Noise, the first documentary produced by The Atlantic, puts a spotlight on three figures associated with the alt-right. The director, Daniel Lombroso, spent three years in their company, attending their rallies and following them from New York to California. For that, he deserves our sympathy.

As his film makes painfully clear, rightwing conspiracy theorists are not exactly fun to be around. He tags along with Richard B. Spencer, the neo-Nazi who started “Heil Trump” chants at an alt-right conference soon after Election Day in 2016; Lauren Southern, a YouTuber who claims that nonwhite immigrants are displacing white populations; and Mike Cernovich, the troll who started Pizzagate.

The film tries to understand how these people came to be involved in QAnon. Spencer and Southern, for example, strongly believe in white supremacy, while Cernovich comes to it from a business perspective. 

First known as an anti-feminist blogger, Cernovich morphed into a conspiracy theorist, making a name for himself by spreading lies about Hillary Clinton, among others. Now, he’s somewhat at a loss. “I don’t know what my agenda is anymore,” Cernovich admits at one point. “Mischief making?”

Watching this is like watching a horror movie, only it’s real life. Lombroso uses news articles, archival footage, and contemporary interviews to tell the story. Eerie music and off-kilter camera angles increase the tension.

White Noise is focused and timely, but it takes time to place its events in a larger context. Expanding its scope beyond U.S. politics, it ventures to Russia and other countries to illuminate how big this movement really is. The three activists aren’t just changing the United States’ political climate; they’re changing the world’s.

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