This summer there aren’t any superhero movies coming out (they’ve all been postponed), but there is one film this season that features real-life heroes. The filmmaking team behind the riveting political doc “Weiner” — Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg, and Eli B. Despres — have made the documentary “The Fight,” which follows a group of crusading ACLU lawyers as they fight to defend some of the bedrock American civil liberties under attack from the Trump administration.
This lively and fast-paced doc opens with a rapid-fire split-screen montage that introduces the ACLU’s 100-year history of defending civil liberties and introduces the focus of the film: four specific cases of the hundreds the organization has brought against the Trump administration, regarding immigrants’ rights, reproductive rights, voting rights and LGBTQ rights. The filmmakers, as well as editors Kim Roberts and Greg Finton (Despres also edited) do a Herculean job of weaving together the cases into a comprehensive patchwork narrative, as the ACLU jabs and parries with the administration and the courts on each issue.
The cases the film follows are Garza v. Hargan, in which a teenage refugee was denied access to an abortion by the Office of Refugee Resettlement; Stone v. Trump, the controversial transgender military ban; Department of Commerce v. New York, about the citizenship question on the 2020 Census; and Ms. L. v. ICE, an asylum-seekers family separation lawsuit.
While threading all the cases together, the filmmakers also sketch humane portraits of the tireless lawyers on each case, who are almost constantly in motion. Immigration rights lawyer Lee Gelernt seems to run entirely on Diet Coke, adrenaline and many, many phone chargers; Dale Ho, voting rights, is a charming, smiley man whom we get to see practice his Supreme Court remarks over and over; Brigitte Amiri, a dedicated and passionate defender of Roe v. Wade, writes briefs at midnight and enjoys well-earned train wine after a win, and Chase Strangio, a dedicated working parent, taking on the transgender military ban with Josh Block. It’s the fight that keeps them going: even the hateful invective sent their way via postcards, emails, Facebook messages and voicemails only fans the flames of the fire that drives them: Ho even thumbtacks the postcard to his bulletin board as a reminder of what he’s working for.
Although “The Fight” is swift and jam-packed with ups, downs, wins, losses, injunctions, stays, hearings and Trump speeches, the film is remarkably detailed and careful, and in fact, it reckons with the ACLU’s mission, their dedication to defending civil liberties for all, not just the people we agree with. They’ve defended far-right and alt-right groups, radical Muslims and Nazis from Skokie, Illinois. But their defense of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was murdered by white supremacist terrorist James Fields Jr., weighs heavy on many in the organization, who try to understand if there are limits to defending free speech, at least for them.
In this film, and in life, it often feels like the lawyers of the organization are the only ones standing in the way of the Trump administration’s racist, sexist, homophobic and fascist policies, many capriciously intended not only to strip human rights but to bully and intimidate the American public. They are the real heroes of this era, battling it out in court after court, armed with tote bags of documents, caffeine and a deeply unwavering and humanitarian sense of justice. But as Ho put it so frankly, lawyers and courts aren’t going to change the world; people are. And it’s up to us to do it.
“The Fight’ will be released July 31 on streaming services.