Slay the Dragon

Slay the Dragon looks at the issue of gerrymandering, possibly the most insidious element of modern-day politics. It's the strategic drawing of voting maps, designed to give the edge to one party or the other. Democrats and Republicans have both utilized it to gain an advantage, although in recent years it has demonstrably benefited the latter party far more. The documentary delivers an inside look at how it works, along with an exploration of what activists are doing to halt the practice.

Directors Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance focus on what happened after the 2008 presidential election. Barack Obama won the presidency and Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In short, America seemed to be veering strongly to the left. In response, a partisan initiative worked covertly to undermine that fact. Conservative money was funneled into state legislative races in swing states. With those victories in hand, voting maps were able to be changed to give Republicans a massive edge going forward. In multiple cases, the maps were drawn to make it impossible for Democrats to win, even if they received the lion's share of votes.

Gerrymandering is based on demographic data, and Slay the Dragon shows how an element of racism underlies it. People of color tend to vote Democratic. Maps are therefore drawn to concentrate them in small areas. That way, they can win their district without having any significant influence upon the state as a whole. Oftentimes, the gerrymandered maps are so squiggly and uneven that they make no sense. Unless you understand the intent behind them, that is.

This peek behind the political curtain is fascinating and educational, especially since a variety of voting experts are on hand to discuss the process of gerrymandering. Experts additionally lay out the ramifications, which would seem to go directly against our sense of democracy. These sections will rightfully make you angry, as they suggest something many of us fear: that our votes really don't count.

Slay the Dragon wants to offer a measure of hope, though, and that comes in the form of Katie Fahey. This unassuming young woman, a concerned citizen with zero prior political experience, leads a grassroots group called Voters Not Politicians. Their goal, as followed onscreen, is to get enough signatures to place an anti-gerrymandering initiative on Michigan's ballot. Katie and her crew work tirelessly to take on a crooked system, facing fierce opposition along the way. As one commentator points out, whenever anti-gerrymandering initiatives appear on ballots, the public tends to vote for them overwhelmingly. Consequently, certain powers-that-be really don't want them to end up there. Watching what happens provides a good reminder that the voice of the people is incredibly powerful.

A 100-minute film about gerrymandering might sound like eating your vegetables, but Goodman and Durrance keep the pace quick, ensuring that you're riveted from start to finish. So much vital information is presented that you get thoroughly sucked in. Slay the Dragon is important viewing, especially heading into this year's elections. The winners will get to draw up the voting maps going forward. If you care about fair voting, you probably won't see a more vital documentary this year, regardless of your political affiliation.

out of four

Slay the Dragon is rated PG-13 for brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.