In Slay the Dragon, the controversial practice of warping district lines in the US is laid bare along with the fight to stop it from happening in the future
Katie Fahey was not looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner in November 2016. The election had splintered her family – some had supported Donald Trump, others backed Bernie Sanders, then Hillary Clinton – and the only agreement seemed to be a deep frustration with the polarized and paralyzingly entrenched interests of the political status quo. So one morning before heading to work as a sustainability organizer for a grocery company, the then 26-year-old aimed for a point of common ground with a Facebook post, reanimated in an early scene of the documentary Slay the Dragon: “Hey, I want to take on gerrymandering in Michigan. If you want to help, let me know :)”
By lunch, it was clear she had struck a nerve. The post was shared in private Facebook groups from both camps, and Michiganders from across the aisle seemed to agree that regardless of the president, the warped district lines in the state – drawn up behind closed doors by legislators every 10 years – had strangled Michigan politics. Lead-contaminated water continued to poison the city of Flint, while bizarrely shaped districts – one stretched like a bat over swaths of Democratic voters in Detroit – rendered campaigns meaningless. Fahey held an initial meeting of about 70 people, thinking they would organize to support an established group. But establishment was clearly the issue, and soon they were taking on the Michigan state constitution.
The journey from optimistically frustrated Facebook post to leader of the grassroots group Voters Not Politicians forms the backbone of Slay the Dragon, a new documentary from Frontline veterans Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance, premiering at the Tribeca film festival, that illuminates the deep, deliberate shadiness of America’s decennial districting process. District lines, and the politician-appointed groups who often draw them, may not seem on the surface like a threat to American democracy, but Slay the Dragon reveals them to be a suffocating web of big money and special interests – the tendrils connecting the dots from the Flint water crisis to dismantled unions in Wisconsin, the match and the accelerant to hyperpartisanship.