Alya Mehrtash staff writer
Netflix’s highly anticipated “Knock Down the House” is a powerful and riveting piece that follows the congressional campaigns of four progressive female candidates in the 2018 midterm elections: Paula Jean Swearengin (D-WV), Cori Bush (D-MO), Amy Vilela (D-NV) and, most notably, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the only one of the four women successful in her respective election.
Ocasio-Cortez made headlines in 2018 when she emerged victorious in New York’s 14th Congressional District primary elections. The 28-year-old bartender defeated democratic incumbent Representative Joseph Crowley in arguably one of the biggest upsets of the midterm elections.
The documentary is based around the fact that the four women are not “career politicians.” Swearengin is the daughter of a West Virginia coal miner. Bush is a registered nurse and an ordained pastor. Vilela is a “businesswoman turned Medicare For All activist” after the death of her 22-year-old daughter, Shalynne. Each of them has a unique story that contributed to their campaigns. This out-of-the-ordinary perspective enthralls viewers as it showcases a divergent campaigning process compared to that of an ordinary politician.
Director Rachel Lears beautifully encaptured each of their stories–both before, during and after the elections–and she presented them in a way that not only grasped the viewers’ attention but also allowed them to form an emotional bond with each of the candidates simply by watching the film.
Another distinctive aspect of the documentary is its unique, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process of running for Congress. This is especially true for “Knock Down the House,” as the main subjects of the film are working-class Americans challenging established politicians.
“I’m running because everyday Americans deserve to be represented by everyday Americans,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the film. “This is not about electing me to Congress, this is about electing us to Congress.”
Through the featured candidates, “Knock Down the House” effectively highlights the narrative that many members of Congress are simply not representative of their constituents. Vilela lost her daughter to medical complications due to her failure to provide proof of insurance at a hospital. Having been personally affected by lack of medical insurance, Vilela hoped to represent the citizens of her district in Nevada and bring positive change. The way Vilela’s pain and mourning are portrayed in the film personalizes such issues for viewers and moves them in a way that makes them care even more about Vilela’s candidacy.
“We need representatives in Washington that understand the stakes of this fight and who will never stop advocating for the people,” Vilela said.
Part of the film follows Ocasio-Cortez while she was canvassing in the beginnings of her campaign. She took to the streets of New York to rally up support for her campaign, and then she would immediately go to work as a bartender in a local bar. She was fairly new to the political scene, unlike her politically seasoned opponent. Having served as a U.S. representative for the past 14 years, the odds were heavily in Crowley’s favor.
“If I was a rational person, I would have dropped out of this race a long time ago,” Ocasio-Cortez said during one of her shifts.
It’s this perseverance and faith in her message that is found not only in Ocasio-Cortez but in Swearengin, Vilela and Bush as well. Their resilience, despite their odds, inspires viewers to always fight for what they believe in and to always believe in themselves. From the beginnings of their campaign to election night, this tenacity and raw emotion showcased in the film enhances the story to a whole other level.
The camera crew even filmed Ocasio-Cortez in her small New York apartment where at one point, viewers see her nervously preparing for a debate against Crowley. Seeing the vulnerable side of the now-big-name politician whose success has inspired many Americans and allows viewers to relate to their politicians.
While Ocasio-Cortez was the only one to win her election, all the women featured in “Knock Down the House” show the new generation of politicians that is rapidly growing–one that is made of everyday Americans, not career politicians. With its behind-the-scenes coverage and powerful storyline, “Knock Down the House” is an inspiring yet educational must-watch.