Netflix and Shill: New Documentary Pushes One-Sided Look at Progressive Politicians


Recently, Netflix released “Knock Down the House,” a documentary directed by filmmaker Rachael Lears that follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other women as they campaigned for office as underdogs.

Their stories are inspiring and vivid. There’s only one problem: They’re all Democrats and only one of the women featured won.

This documentary demonstrates significant media bias, the kind that is content to spread political news based on false presumptions, while presenting only one side of the story to the public.

Who Are These Women?

“Knock Down the House,” which Netflix premiered on May 1, focuses primarily on showcasing women with few resources who challenged “big-money politicians” in the last midterm elections. With that narrow goal in mind, the documentary profiled four women, three of whom lost their races. The fourth woman—the now-infamous New York congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez—of course, won.

Taken individually, many of these women’s stories are compelling: Just a few months ago, Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender; now she’s barking at the CEO of Wells Fargo in a congressional hearing, even if she is embarrassing herself.

Amy Vilela has an incredibly moving personal backstory that explains why she was motivated to run in the first place. She lost her daughter to what seemed like a random, sudden illness. She believes her daughter didn’t receive adequate treatment because she thought she was uninsured, and ran her campaign on the idea of changing health care.

Paula Jean Swearengin is a single mother of four from West Virginia. She lost one of her grandparents and several uncles to black lung disease. She touted being associated with progressive groups such as Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats.

Cori Bush ran for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District. She is an ordained pastor and registered nurse who helps the less fortunate in St. Louis. Bush’s story seems particularly inspiring and she has a dynamic personality.

The only thing that resonates with me about this documentary is the way it showcases how grit can accomplish the American Dream—and Ocasio-Cortez’s success story is still inspiring. However, aside from the moving personal stories, it’s not clear why the documentary profiled any of these women, save Ocasio-Cortez.

Why Profile Them?

While Ocasio-Cortez is far left and her Green New Deal—among other absurd things—proved her hubris, she did at least win her race.

Vilela didn’t make it to election day, garnering little over 3,300 votes in the primary. Not only was Swearengin also defeated in the primary, but she also took home only 30 percent of the vote. She was soundly defeated by her lone opponent. The people of West Virginia either didn’t like her, or preferred Joe Manchin more—I don’t know, you’d have to ask them—but either way, they made their voice known.

Bush came second in the primary vote in August 2018; although in losing, she did garner far more votes than her other opponents who lost.

While these women have incredible personal stories, and I’m sure the documentary makers will make the case that they lost because they didn’t have the “big money” their male challengers did, I think there’s another reason they lost: Their policy proposals represent a far-left ideology that it seems even the more liberal districts weren’t quite ready to adopt.

Regardless, why not balance the story a bit and mention a few Republican women who lost, or even better, who won? Female Republican candidates also face a fundraising challenge, perhaps even more so than Democratic candidates.

Of the 125 women who won congressional seats, only 19 were Republicans. I can see why Netflix wouldn’t promote a documentary entirely featuring female conservative politicians, since they didn’t even come close to representing the majority.

However, some of them did win and, of the ones who did, they too had remarkable stories; they too overcame obstacles and inspired voters. I’m no hater of the patriarchy or radical-feminist, but many of these women bested male opponents, just like the ladies in the documentary, um, attempted to do.

Conservative Women

In the almost-won category is Young Kim. She narrowly missed out on becoming the first Korean American woman elected to Congress in 2018—in California no less. She’s an entrepreneur and a Republican. On election night, she was winning by a good margin, but once all mail-in ballots were counted a week later, she had lost to her Democratic rival. Her race was hardly covered, even though she fits so well into the box of identity politics for which Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) have become famous. Did she not overcome enough obstacles? Is it because her predecessor was Republican?

Tennessee voted in its first female senator, Marsha Blackburn. As with many of the other women who ran, Blackburn is a mother and businesswoman. She made history, despite singer Taylor Swift’s vocal last-ditch effort to encourage voters to cast their ballots for Blackburn’s opponent, a man, in the name of “women’s rights.” While many of my female friends and I haven’t forgotten that irony, apparently Netflix has: Blackburn didn’t get a well-deserved profile, either.

Kim Reynolds made history this last election, when she became Iowa’s first elected female governor. A Republican, Reynolds beat her male opponent as well. Similarly, Cindy Hyde-Smith became the first elected female member of Congress for Mississippi.

Kristi Noem, a Republican mother from South Dakota who lives on a ranch and likes to hunt, also snagged the governorship from a man to become the the state’s first female governor.

West Virginia Rep. Carol Miller, a grandmother, small-business owner, and bison farmer, was the lone freshman Republican woman elected to the House of Representatives. She, too, beat a male opponent.

Anyone else see a trend here? I see qualified, intelligent, history-making women who balance work, family, and the political spotlight—all while embracing conservative values. Their constituents honored this, and voted them in—yet, it’s not enough for Netflix to get a profile.

The Problem

As a woman raising two daughters who also happens to love politics, I don’t have a problem with Netflix featuring women who ran for office. In fact, I applaud it. Of course, Netflix isn’t required to be fair, equal, or unbiased in their political opinions. However, here’s what I do have a problem with: Netflix has a huge platform.

“In the fourth quarter of 2019, Netflix had over 158 million streaming subscribers worldwide. Of these subscribers, 61.97 million were from the United States,” according to Statista.

Yet with this gigantic platform, Netflix chose to be biased, to leave out the minority of female Republicans who challenged men in office—and won. They even left out incredible men who ran for office—men such as Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye while serving as a Navy SEAL—all to make it look like progressive politics are paramount now.

Yes, liberals won and did take over the majority in the House. However, plenty of inspiring conservative women won. Why not add their stories? Why not show their courage, grit, determination, and values? Clearly their conservative beliefs have made them look like pariahs, untouchable even to profile in a simple Netflix political documentary.

In choosing only to focus on far-left progressive women—women who are so liberal most of them lost—they not only exclude incredible stories about conservative women (and men), they actually fail to make their point.

It’s hard to believe the mantra that these women lost to men simply because they weren’t “big-money politicians,” as the Netflix tag reads. Rather, a simple glance at their biography and constituent demographics demonstrate it’s likely they were ill-suited for the job, poorly prepared for the race, and the most important: their far-left ideas failed to represent their constituents’ viewpoints.

It’s unfortunate that Netflix failed to use its gigantic platform to tell a fair, accurate, description of women running for Congress in 2018. Presenting a lopsided, distorted view of women in U.S. politics doesn’t help anyone but Netflix’s bottom line.

Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and the Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm

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Author: Nicole Russell