When “And She Could Be Next” premieres Monday and Tuesday nights on PBS, viewers will get to see a two-part documentary on women of color in politics that’s described as “powerful and absolutely vital” by the Chicago Sun-Times.
But if viewers in the Motor City region want to see it, they’ll have to go online. Detroit Public TV won’t be airing the film, because of concerns over fairness involving the segments devoted to U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.
Presented by the “POV” series, “And She Could Be Next” focuses on women who ran for office in 2018 and represent a dynamic, more inclusive face of American politics.
In addition to Tlaib, the film follows Georgia’s then-Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas, California state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, and Bushra Amiwala, who ran for country commissioner in Illinois.
The documentary is directed by Grace Lee, who helmed the 2013 film about a Detroit social justice icon, “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” and Marjan Safinia, an Iranian documentary filmmaker who explored first-generation immigrant lives in 1999’s “But You Speak Such Good English.”
Ava DuVernay, the acclaimed director of “Selma,” “13th” and the Netflix series “When They See Us,” is the executive producer.
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Detroit Public TV president and CEO Rich Homberg described “And She Could Be Next” as an “excellent” documentary. But he said the situation is complicated in the Detroit market because of Tlaib’s run for reelection.
“The doc is terrific and it’s an important topic. It’s just technically very difficult for us to straight-up air at this point,” he said.
Detroit’s PBS station is opting instead to run episodes of a 2016 documentary series “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” as a replacement.
Under the federal equal time rule, broadcasters are required to treat opposing candidates for the same office identically and offer equal air time opportunities.
Although it’s relatively easy to give one candidate the same interview time or opportunity to buy ad time, Homberg said “And She Could Be Next” was a more complex scenario, since it weaves Tlaib throughout the narrative.
Homberg estimates about 43 minutes of the four-hour film is devoted to Tlaib.
The filmmakers, however, see their work as themed to broad issues and not defined by a single person.
“If you watch the entire series, you’ll see this is about what’s happening in this country with changing demographics and what are those effects when it comes to looking at our democracy,” co-director Lee said.
“It’s about a movement of women of color as candidates and organizers who are transforming politics in the United States. We happen to follow Rashida Tlaib as one person, but the time that is spent in Detroit is not just about Rashida. There are regular people who are being civically engaged, who are getting involved in the democratic process, many of them for the first time, which is what was exciting for us, too.”
Safinia says the filmmakers learned last week that Detroit wouldn’t be airing the film. It also won’t be carried by Georgia Public Broadcasting, the state where McBath is running for re-election.
Georgia also is where Abrams narrowly lost to the Republican candidate, then-Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp, amid his purging of hundreds of thousands of people from voter rolls and an Election Day marked by hours-long waits at some polling sites.
“In a state where there is so much voter suppression, which is … documented in the series, this now feels like an act of viewer suppression to stop Georgians from being able to see their own story,” Safinia said.
According to Homberg, “And She Could Be Next” eventually will be on Detroit Public TV’s schedule. “We’re not going to air the documentary now, but we think it will be an important element for our air at the right time.”
Viewers can see “And She Could Be Next” online at the “POV” site starting at 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.