American Blackout a Must-See Documentary

by Melissa Blizzard on September 13, 2006

American Blackout, directed by Berkeley filmmaker Ian Inaba and produced by the Guerrilla News Network, is one of the must see documentaries of this year. The film, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival opens at the San Francisco Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema and the Larkspur Lark Theater on Friday September 15th 2006. The film is a powerful assessment of voting rights in America as it chronicles the recurring and systematic disenfranchisement of African American voters historically and in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

American Blackout provides palatable, concise information on the Florida and Ohio election debacles and utilizes the political career of America’s most controversial and much maligned politician, Congresswoman Cynthia Mckinney (D-Georgia) for its main storyline. As noted on the film’s website, “Whatever you think you know about our election systems or Cynthia McKinney, this film will once again make you question why the American news media fails to accurately inform the public.”

While other films in the new political documentary genre may also serve as alternatives to television news coverage, American Blackout deftly covers the topics of voting rights, political dissent and the failings of the news media that combine to paint a poignant and shocking picture of the state of our democracy.

George W. Bush’s narrow victory in 2000 spurred a historic investigation into Florida’s election process. While the mainstream media focused on dysfunctional ballots and Supreme Court litigation, Inaba’s inquiry leads him to McKinney. As documented in the film, McKinney was the only member of congress to publicly investigate the private company hired by the state of Florida to “scrub” its voter lists, thus disproportionately shutting out thousands of black voters and handing Bush the unlikely victory.

The investigation introduces us to McKinney’s outspoken nature and explains why she has become a marked target for her opponents. As the filmmakers continue to track McKinney’s career, Inaba reveals a host of ways in which black political power is systematically squelched, ranging from the slander that assailed McKinney when she stood up to the Bush administration on 9/11 and Iraq to the mean spirited crossover which led to her unseating in 2002 and again most recently in 2006.

The film is certain to outrage audiences particularly by the time they see the political machinations that disempowered the black vote during the Ohio presidential election in 2004. Interestingly, the filmmakers are teaming up with grassroots organizations across the country and have formed the End the Blackout campaign to encourage citizens to harness their discontent into progressive political action.

The San Francisco Film Society is promoting a local “house-party” screening night on September 27th as a part of the longer national campaign. More information on the campaign and DVD availability can be found at www.AmericanBlackout.org.

Inaba reminds us that African Americans have long fought a war for their right to vote, and unfortunately that war rages on today. American Blackout emotionally revitalizes the core of our power as American citizens–the right to vote–and effectively reveals that the fate of black voters is inextricably tied to the fate of all Americans.

American Blackout is Inaba’s feature length directorial debut. The film has been a sensation on the festival circuit; in addition to winning a Special Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival it has received top honors and awards at many other festivals.

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