What Is Democracy?

2019 | 107 minutes | Rated NR

At the heart of What Is Democracy?, a documentary from Canadian American filmmaker/philosopher Astra Taylor, is a black American barber who is also an ex-convict. Ellie Brett is young, but he has already served nearly a decade in prison for what he describes as a bad decision. He is interviewed while cutting, shaving, and sculpting the hair of this and that man. What makes his moment the heart of what this film is trying to express is a story he tells about being part of a hunger strike while he was in prison. He and others locked up with him did not eat for months because the authorities were going to close their library. What's amazing is that Brett thinks this act seems frivolous. But when you think about the protest in the context of Taylor's documentary, which impressively and tellingly examines the status of US democracy, predominantly from the perspective of black Americans, you realize the protest was all about democracy. Those prisoners were not criminals simply paying their debts—they were humans caught in a vicious feedback loop with politics as its source.

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Film Credits
Director
Astra Taylor