Eli Despres, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s informative “The Fight” is an organizational unmasking of the American Civil Liberties Union. Winning a special jury award for “Social Impact Filmmaking,” the fervent documentary reinforces what is at stake this November. Even one of the most prominent figures followed – voting rights lawyer Dale Ho – acknowledges his organization isn’t a large enough force to win the war on social injustice. It’s American voters, who actively do much less than the ACLU, that make the biggest difference in securing civil rights and passing new legislation.
Whenever a Supreme Court ruling favors the ACLU, it’s reported via tweet or media headline. Until now, there have never been individual faces tied to these career freedom fighters. “The Fight” does a wonderful job providing a tour of the lauded nonprofit. Audiences come to know its long history, its controversial nonpartisan defense of the first amendment, and its current staff facing round-the-clock headaches from the Trump administration. After observing these lawyers’ determination and intense trial preparation, it’s impossible to buy into the argument that the legal profession is just shy of evil.
The director trio divides their doc into four simultaneous cases spanning three years, each representing a specific department within the organization. On behalf of the voting rights division, Dale Ho condemns the lawfulness of the new Census form, which then included a citizenship question. Ho asserts the addition was created under the pretext of scaring away voters with undocumented family members. Such low participation turnout could cause six states to lose congressional representation, thereby suppressing votes due to redistricting.
Next is Brigitte Amiri, a reproductive rights attorney whose client is an undocumented Jane Doe seeking an abortion at 15 weeks. Despite the pregnancy resulting from rape — and meeting the legal requirement to abort before the 20-week mark – the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) refuses her request out of religious indignation. When the Supreme Court sides with the ACLU, Amiri takes her victory a step further. She petitions for a class action lawsuit to prevent the ORR from ever imposing their “pro-life” beliefs on future asylum seekers.
Joshua Block and Chase Strangio, cisgender male and transgender male respectively, comprise the nonprofit’s LGBT rights department. The tenacious duo immediately take Donald Trump to court following his announcement to ban transgender servicemen and women from the military. Filing the suit to decree the ban unconstitutional is a transgender man and 11-year military veteran, Petty Officer First Class Brock Stone. “Stone v. Trump” is the most emotionally devastating of the four litigation cases since Trump beguiles the court by modifying the ban’s language. Allowing active transgender military personnel to still serve while banning recruitment is less a compromise than it is an invitation for resentment and transphobia within the ranks.
Finally, there is Lee Gelernt, an outstanding lawyer who projects visceral stress and uncertainty in every frame. Gelernt is that quintessential documentary subject who appears discombobulated, frazzled, and yet pulls out dominant expertise when it counts. A running gag includes Gelernt constantly losing battery life on his phone, and the frantic mania that ensues trying to rectify this commonplace dilemma. These outtake inserts not only humanize Gelernt but also underscore the enormous expectation placed on him. As a member of the Immigrants’ Rights team, he is directly responsible for reversing the cruelty of separating children from their parents at the border. “The Fight” illustrates the ACLU’s ongoing manifesto of preserving individual rights, espoused by a robust assembly of heroes given due recognition and gratitude at long last.