Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power (2020) documentary

Written by:
Paula Farmer
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California’s 13th District representative to Congress is rightfully feeling vindicated about now with all the issues swirling around the United States stand on Afghanistan. This is because in 2001 she was the lone Congress member to vote against going into war there. This aspect of her career also makes the release of a documentary about her career all the more timely. Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power is an intimate portrait of the strong and inspiring politician who has represented her district, which includes Oakland and Berkeley, since 1998. The film presents her long and impressive tenure as an outspoken advocate for racial and economic justice, and one who is willing to take on unpopular, possibly career-ending stands such as opposing the war, post the 9-11 attacks. To confirm her political impact, the film includes appearances and talking points from Representative John Lewis, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Corey Booker, and CNN commentator Van Jones. They effectively drive home the point of Ms. Lee’s impact in the Black community, among all her constituents, and within the often volatile halls of congress.

As the highest-ranking African-American woman in congress, with such a unique and stalwart reputation, it is not surprising that Ms. Lee would be the topic of a documentary, and done so by director Abby Ginzberg (And Then They Came, Soft Vengeance) who has a portfolio of documentaries focusing on politics and agents of change. That said, while Lee makes an understandable subject of interest, the actual film presentation does not rise above a charming portrayal. And that may be enough … for certain audiences and definitely to justify its creation. For those looking for something more politically charged, complex and engaging, this may be too tepid, but as a legitimate way for general audiences beyond the Bay Area to become more aware of Lee, her crusades, and what will be her legacy, Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power should definitely be in your cue. 

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