Review: American Blackout

I had an inkling that I was in for trouble when I saw the provocative title of this 2006 film. I decided to give it a look anyway. I was rather certain I wouldn’t like it when I saw that this documentary was made by an outfit which calls itself the Guerrilla News Network, which is a website littered with radical and unfounded conspiracies. Still, I watched the “documentary,” only to have my worst fears confirmed.

American Blackout could have been–and based on the title, I hoped it would be–an interesting and hard-hitting look at the very troubling possibility of systematic disenfranchisement of black Americans in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. I wanted to see a film that looked deeply at these claims and determined if they had any merit.

There were, in the early-going, hints at this. They mention the possibility that Florida’s electioneers had, in 2000, intentionally asked for a list of “criminals” that would create a number of false positives and thus unnecessarily disenfranchise many black voters. And that this may have been a strategic choice made by Katherine Harris’s office to disenfranchise constituencies that are typically Democratic.

Unfortunately, the director, Ian Inaba, does not look hard at such possible injustices. Instead, he settles for insinuations and claims that problems exist without addressing whether such claims have merit.

The film actually spends most of its time following, for rather opaque reasons, a Georgia congresswoman named Cynthia McKinney. A woman Inaba seems to venerate more than analyze. Though I mean no offense, I didn’t care about her–she’s a minor figure in and out of Congress. And though Inaba tries to make the election that removed her from office look illegal and unjust, it was neither–merely underhanded. Further, McKinney generally shows herself to be a controversial and self-righteous politician. And she’s only mildly related to the film about systemic disenfranchisement that I thought I was watching.

After a series of insinuations about Florida in 2000, and an introduction to McKinney, the film goes to Ohio in 2004. But it is treated just as Florida was treated, with insinuation and outrage and little else. I think that there is a serious and viable possibility that systematic efforts to disenfranchise certain voters occurred. I also know that no election is run perfectly, and there is a large difference between grave mismanagement and systematic disenfranchisement.

The film doesn’t ask what really occurred. It doesn’t probe why some inner-city precincts saw decreases in voting machines and increases in registration in 2004, it merely insinuates the point. It completely ignores the likely possibility that there were higher increases in registration in other areas.

Though I thought such a thing was nearly impossible, American Blackout has made me more (though not completely) certain that nothing truly troubling occurred. Its structure insinuates only two possible reasons for the film’s shallowness: (1) that Inaba honestly probed claims of voter disenfranchisement and came up empty, or (2) that he didn’t even try to investigate the claims, already convinced of their reality.

Both ideas make me dislike American Blackout and Inaba a great deal more than I would like. But beyond the shortcomings, the film does even stranger things. It willingly and repeatedly insinuates that 9/11 was an “inside job,” and that the Iraq War was unnecessary. I don’t have an explicit problem with such claims, but whatever do they have to do with the disenfranchisement of voters?

The majority of the “evidence” the film presents are elected officials denouncing injustice but lacking evidence that it occurred; average voters who are inconvenienced primarily by their ignorance of proper voting procedures; and video of immensely long voting lines. But long lines on voting day can be–probably are–a product of poor and potentially incompetent planning. Though Inaba doesn’t seem to know it, this is not proof of systematic disenfranchisement. Gross mismanagement, yes; true injustice, no.

I didn’t think it was possible, but American Blackout‘s misguided notions of what’s needed from an investigational documentary made me long for, of all people, Michael Moore. A man who, though I frequently agree with, find abhorrent in his methods. Having said that, I’m confident Michael Moore would have made a better American Blackout than Inaba did.

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