Founded in 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been defending and preserving the individual rights and liberties of every person in America for 100 years. Perfectly timed to coincide with this huge anniversary milestone, The Fight offers a glimpse into the work of the ACLU, shining a light on some of the most high-profile cases they’ve bought against the Trump Presidency to date, whilst also exploring the challenges the organisation faces day-to-day in the pursuit of justice for civil liberties. Directed by the team behind 2016’s equally superb film Weiner, The Fight is an insightful fly-on-the-wall film that goes behind the scenes of one of America’s most important legal organisations.
Of the 140 cases bought against the Trump administration by the ACLU to date, the film highlights four key legal battles – the protection of a young immigrant woman’s abortion rights, the battle to end Trump’s Transgender military ban, the attempt to reunite parents and children in the wake of ICE’s disgusting separation of immigrant families, and the protest against the controversial addition of a citizenship status question to the 2020 census. Strong direction and editing throughout ensure each narrative is given plenty of room to develop and tell itself, the filmmakers never shorting any of the four in favour of another.
The end result is both an incredibly engrossing and surprisingly moving film, one that keeps its focus firmly on the human aspect behind each case, yet never once neglecting to outline the important legal procedures behind each story. The directors are consistent in keeping emotion at the forefront throughout, and ensuring that said-emotion is as thoroughly documented as the nitty-gritty legal facts.
It is this that makes the documentary unbearably nerve-wracking in places, especially towards the end, as each lawyer awaits their respective verdicts, the human cost of each case having been laid bare by the preceding 75 minutes or so. We won’t say how exactly (to avoid spoilers), but rest assured, the film had us fighting back the tears at one point.
Granted access to all aspects of the case, the film offers a chance to peek behind the curtain at the offices of the ACLU throughout, which ultimately gives us a feel for the day-to-day aspects that go with such a vast, never-ending mission. The weight of such crusades is laid bare, as we see lawyers and lobbyists fighting with endless barriers, sudden shock developments, crazy work hours and even hate mail. All of this further enforces the emotional crux of each story, and ensures the film remains as engaging as it is informative throughout.
Quite rightly, the film also turns the focus on to the non-partisan organisation’s defence of extreme right wing groups, especially the instance wherein they defended white nationalist protester’s right to march in Charlottesville in 2017, which resulted in many injuries and the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. The resulting conversation with those interviewed may be conflicting or uncomfortable to hear for some, but huge props must be given to the filmmakers for ensuring this aspect of the organisation’s work and the pressures that stem from it are highlighted and discussed, however fleeting that may be.
At its core though, The Fight is a story (or stories) of compassion and resilience in the face of massive corruption and adversity, putting a human face on the mammoth-sized, headline-grabbing legal battles we hear about regularly in the media cycle, and examining each with an eye for real human drama and emotional consequence. Whilst it may not deliver the full history of the ACLU in its 96-minute runtime, the film is a wonderful practical examination of the organisation at work, and ultimately, delivers a rewarding watch that is tinged with hope.