There may not be a more controversial elected official in Georgia than U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Atlanta, who lost her seat in 2002 and then -- to the shock of many -- regained it in 2004. McKinney is at the center of the Sundance Award-winning documentary American Blackout, which paints a portrait of her that is at stunning odds with what we have learned about her through the mainstream media. The film also depressingly documents how blacks were systematically eliminated from the voting rolls in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and then in Ohio for 2004, stories that were largely ignored by the media.
Director Ian Inaba, a member of the Berkeley-based Guerilla News Network, spoke to Creative Loafing about making American Blackout.
What is the mission of the Guerilla News Network?
GNN focuses on covering stories that we feel the mainstream news media doesn't properly cover. Most of our programming can be found at www.GNN.tv.
The film is a bit ambiguous about the role of the Atlanta daily, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in reporting on McKinney. What role do you think the paper played?
Immediately after 9/11, we saw journalists who were reluctant to ask challenging questions of the administration for fear of being painted as unpatriotic. I originally became interested in McKinney because she is someone who unabashedly raised certain questions regarding Florida 2000 and 9/11 without fear of the consequences. I think many Americans, and probably some who work at the AJC, felt that she should not be raising these questions. I found it interesting and ironic that a news organization whose responsibility it is to inform the public was actually assisting in the silencing of a dissenting opinion because of the political environment.
What is your take on the recent cop-slapping incident?
I don't know exactly what happened that day but as you can see in American Blackout, it is not the first time she has been questioned by Capitol Hill police because they don't recognize her.
Did you have a difficult time convincing McKinney to give you the kind of access she did?
It did take some time to convince her and get her comfortable with the project. By the end of the three years that I filmed her, I have to say that I think her willingness to allow a filmmaker into her life attests to the transparency with which she operates. I don't think there are many other sitting politicians who would allow for this. But hopefully the success of this film will encourage it. I think it is important for the American people to really know their elected leaders and have a better understanding of what goes on in Washington.
America is so politically divided. Do you think there is any possibility for a film like yours to change someone's opinion?
Anecdotally, we have heard that it has opened and even changed the minds of some conservatives. The ability to vote is a fundamental right that is hard to argue against.
What was your take on McKinney as a person?
There was a scene that got cut from the film where she talks about how she got into politics and how as a child she wanted to be a journalist. As she tells it, her father signed her up for her first race and she decided to follow through with it. I think that she is a truth-seeker at heart. As Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur [D-Ohio] said about her, McKinney is "a modern day version of Sojourner Truth. The edge of her knowledge singes some people. Sometimes turmoil surrounds the truth."
Your film is very grim for what it shows of very powerful forces working against our democratic system. How do you maintain hope that things will change?
Audiences across the nation have been outraged by the film. Now it's about turning that outrage into action. Our election process and system will only get cleaned up once we as a society reclaim it and get involved. We can't leave it up to the politicians on either side to give us fair and accurate elections, so it is important that people get involved if we want to see democracy fully restored in our country.
American Blackout. Sat., June 10, 7 p.m., at GSU Speakers Auditorium; and Sat., June 17, noon, at Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas. McKinney is scheduled to attend the screening.
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