SXSW review: Knock Down the House will knock you out


Netflix’s latest documentary is a story of fierce political determination that shows women politicians as powerful and unrelenting.

This has been a wonderful time for political documentaries about women, from RBG to the recent Time for Ilhan. Now, Netflix enters into the genre with Knock Down the House, an eye-opening look at the road to politics for four average women who set out to make a difference. Led by (at the time) future Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, director Rachel Lears tells a story that’s inspiring and urges all of us to, like Captain Marvel, aim further and higher.

Starting in 2016, we follow four prospective candidates for the House and Senate: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a bartender/waitress from the Bronx; Paula Jean Swearingen is a West Virginia coal miner’s daughter trying to stop cancer deaths in her town; Cori Bush, a nurse who witnessed the fallout from Ferguson, Missouri, seeks to change the city of St. Louis; Amy Vilela is a Las Vegas single mother who, in the wake of her daughter’s death, seeks to overhaul the healthcare system.

It’d be easy to label Knock Down the House as “the AOC doc,” but Lears showcases each individual woman’s ferocity which they’ve translated into action. The Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the focal point because of the outcome of her election, but the film tries to balance between all four stories. It’s easy to understand Ocasio-Cortez’s allure as both a candidate and a documentary subject because of how relatable she is.

The movie starts with her putting on her makeup, telling the audience how a male candidate has two outfits: “a suit” or a button-down shirt with “the sleeves rolled up.” Watching Ocasio-Cortez take out garbage at her waitressing job while verbally slapping her opponent in a debate shows the dual sides to women everywhere; they often obscure their intelligence while just trying to survive. Ocasio-Cortez’s grassroots campaign is presented in a way that’s incredibly intelligent as she reiterates her opponent doesn’t live in the city nor does he understand what affects the people he claims to represent.

Yet maybe because we’ve all come to adore Ocasio-Cortez’s, the more interesting people within Knock Down the House are the women whose names we don’t know. Cori Bush receives the least amount of screentime, and yet her voice is so vital. Living in St. Louis during the Ferguson riots, Bush goes beyond the headlines to show the real people behind the movement who truly want change. Swearingen is also highly compelling as she fights to stop coal mining in West Virginia. As she drives down the street pointing out which houses have people with cancer in them, she shows her commitment to individuals, which only makes the final outcome to her story all the more bittersweet.

The person who ends up pulling on heartstrings the most is Las Vegas senate candidate Amy Vilela. Vilela entered into politics after her daughter died at 22 of a pulmonary embolism. Hearing Vilela discuss the horrors of the medical insurance industry that claimed her daughter’s life is heartbreaking, but shows Vilela’s inner fire. Next to Ocasio-Cortez, Vilela is the fiercest member of the group and gives Knock Down the House its reason for existing. These women are mad as hell and they aren’t taking it anymore!

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We need Knock Down the House in our lives. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a remarkable woman, but audiences also need to see the other women involved in shaping our political structure. Knock Down the House continues the trend of urging average Americans to run for office, and it works splendidly.