This investigative journalistic documentary invites the viewer to take a closer look at four committed women who ran for Congress in 2018: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Cori Bush of Maryland, Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia, and Amy Vilela of Nevada. First and foremost, however, Knock Down the House is AOC’s story. The former bartender from the Bronx turned first-time congresswoman needs no introduction.
Because of director Rachel Lears’s early access to the four Congressional candidates, she and her camera have been in the war rooms of the campaigns right from the start, making the footage even more compelling.
From a pool of committed political neophytes, Lears selected four exceptional female candidates — Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin and Amy Vilela — each with an emotionally riveting back-story and a politically established, seemingly unbeatable opponent. Their back-stories propelled them into politics. For Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she had to work double shifts as a bartender to save her mother’s home from foreclosure. After losing a daughter to a preventable medical condition because of lack of health insurance, Amy Vilela became determined to improve America’s broken health-care system. Cori Bush, a registered nurse and pastor, was appalled at the police shooting of an unarmed black man and the resulting army tanks that showed up in her neighborhood. A coal miner’s daughter, Paula Jean Swearengin, watched her friends and family suffer from the devastating environmental effects of the coal industry.
Except for AOC, the other three women candidates–although giving everything they had to win—were defeated. With a raw and blistering honesty, we see the camera hover over their physical and emotional deflation after the results come in. All four were heavily invested personally: “We’re coming out of the belly of the beast kicking and screaming,” Swearengin says. But ten-year incumbents are hard to unseat.
Ocasio-Cortez, unsurprisingly, emerges as a telegenic, exuberant force . She is all that and more. In the closing credits, we see AOC riding a scooter, circling in front of the Congressional building, enjoying the thrill of her victory on a crisp, January morning before the swearing-in ceremony. She’s a television cameraman’s dream: young, attractive, and charismatic with the emotive, energetic oratorial skills of a much more seasoned public speaker. Nothing seems to throw her off her game, whether she’s mopping the floor before distributing leaflets for her campaign or talking with someone who has decided not to vote for her.
Her social media presence alone shows why she has crossed over into pop celebrity, whether she’s tweeting or live-streaming on Instagram while eating popcorn, talking about staying grounded and dancing on YouTube. She is a media darling and that makes her a political star worth watching.
Knock Down the House will knock you down too—with the energy that these women expended to advocate for change.
Note: Available on Netflix.