When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that she planned to run for congress a lot of people laughed. At the time, the idea that a 28 year old waitress from the Bronx could be running for any sort of public office seemed almost laughable. Donald Trump had just won the election, and people everywhere worried about what that meant for the future of their country. Knock Down the House is a documentary that follows Ocasio-Cortez and three other women on the road to office as they run for a spot in Congress.
Less about the specific politics of their campaigns, the documentary touches on the aspects of the individual women’s lives that led them to want to run for office. Amy Vilela of Nevada, for example, felt passionate about healthcare reform after her daughter died suddenly. When she exhibited symptoms of a blood clot, she was refused service in the hospital because she couldn’t provide proof of insurance. She died just a few days later. The film shares emotional interviews with Vilela who felt as if her campaign was a way of paying homage to her daughter.
Meanwhile, in Missouri, Cori Bush feels passionately about the Black Lives Matter movement as a member of the same community in which Mike Brown was killed. She describes the aftermath of the event as being reminiscent of a war zone. The famous case was not the first of police brutality to go without justice, but marked a major moment in the modern fight for civil rights.
The fourth woman to be documented in the film is Paula-Jean Swearengin of West Virginia. The ethos of Swearengin’s campaign largely tackled major conglomerate companies in the oil and coal industry. In her small town, the same workers that mine the coal are suffering from chronic, often terminal, illnesses as a direct result of the industry. Swearengin’s scenes document the mass deforestation and use of explosives in her Appalachian town.
Unfortunately the only candidate to win the election was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In an emotional scene, Ocasio-Cortez is shown sitting on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. After a moment of silence she tells a story about wanting to make her father, who passed away when she was younger, proud.
The film received a five-minute standing ovation after its premiere at Sundance Film Festival last week in Park City. While Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t be in attendance for the premiere, she phoned into the event after the film screened. Meanwhile, Vilela, Bush, and Swearengin were at the event to see the film for the first time.
Knock Down the House highlights the emotional journey that four women took to challenge the men in politics that had been in power for far too long. It’s a heartfelt, passionate film that will touch any audience—no matter the political view. If for no other reason, it proves that women deserve a seat at the table. The film was purchased by Netflix and will be released later this year.