‘Knock Down the House’ filmmaker wants to ‘encourage political participation’ 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the first candidate director Rachel Lears met, in March 2017. (Supplied)
Updated 04 May 2019

‘Knock Down the House’ filmmaker wants to ‘encourage political participation’ 

  • Aside from successful campaigner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lears’ documentary followed Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin
  • The candidates came from different backgrounds but represented the same ideals — they refused corporate donations

DUBAI: American documentary “Knock Down the House” created a buzz in the film industry when it had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

The film, about four female US primary candidates, has an approval rating of 100 percent on review site Rotten Tomatoes. 

Director Rachel Lears said the response to the film had made her hope it will encourage political participation.

“I do hope it can be a tool for people who are organizing for change in our government and in our democratic process, but also hope it can encourage people to engage with the political process who might not otherwise feel left out,” Lears told Arab News. 




Director Rachel Lears (L) with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Supplied)

Lears said she was inspired to make the documentary after the 2016 US presidential elections.  

“After the 2016 election a lot of ordinary people wanted to get involved in politics,” she said, explaining that there was a “wave” of women, people of color, as well as political outsiders and first-time candidates who stood to compete in the 2018 midterm elections.  

Lears believes this was influenced by the Trump administration’s policies, which left some communities feeling under-represented. “I was really interested in highlighting the work of people who were working really hard to connect the struggles of different communities around the country.” 

Aside from successful campaigner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lears’ documentary followed Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin. The candidates came from different backgrounds but represented the same ideals — they refused corporate donations and aimed to represent the average working-class person.




Paula Jean Swearengin is a social and environmental activist and politician from West Virginia. (Supplied)




Amy Vilela is a healthcare activist running who is running for Congress in Nevada. (Supplied)




Cori Bush unsuccessfully went against US Representative Lacy Clay in Missouri. (Supplied)

Lears said she wanted to focus on those who had “grass-roots” campaigns. “I was looking for people who would be really interesting to watch no matter what happens with their elections. Of course, there was a very real possibility that all four of them might have lost.”

Ocasio-Cortez was the first candidate Lears met, in March 2017. Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic Party’s primary election for New York on June 26, 2018, defeating Joe Crowley in what was widely seen as the biggest victory in the 2018 US mid-term elections.

Knock Down the House was released on May 1 on Netflix. 


Yara Shahidi glows on NAACP Image Awards red carpet

The US actress was nominated for an NAACP award for her role in “Grown-ish.” (Getty)
Updated 23 February 2020

Yara Shahidi glows on NAACP Image Awards red carpet

DUBAI: On Saturday night, A-listers descended upon the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, for the 51st annual NAACP Image Awards. Among the stars in attendance was US actress and activist Yara Shahidi, who was nominated for the Best Actress in a Comedy Series award for her role in “Grown-ish.” While the 20-year-old didn’t take home the prize — the accolade went to her “Black-ish” co-star Tracee Ellis Ross — Shahidi was a major winner when it came to her scene-stealing red carpet look.

The US-Iranian actress stepped out wearing a mint green satin minidress covered in embellishments by Gucci and a pair of chunky metallic leather platform sandals, also from the Italian house.

As for her beauty look, Shahidi decided to embrace her natural curls on the red carpet. Glowy skin, brushed up brows, a feline flick of liquid eyeliner and a swipe of reflective gloss rendered her makeup look complete.  

The US-Iranian actress stepped out wearing a mint green satin minidress covered in embellishments by Gucci. (Getty)

Other stars who turned heads at the annual awards ceremony include “9-1-1” actress Angela Bassett who accepted the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series award wearing a mint-colored, structured evening gown by Lebanese couture duo Azzi & Osta. The dress featured a waist-cinching belt with an asymmetric neckline and was accessorized with a matching emerald-green clutch and drop earrings.

Other winners on the night included singer Lizzo, who was named the Entertainer of the Year, and “Just Mercy,” which won the Best Motion Picture award, while its lead actor Michael B. Fox nabbed the Best Actor trophy and its secondary star Jamie Foxx won the Best Supporting Actor prize at the awards ceremony that recognizes entertainers of color.

Angela Bassett accepted the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series award wearing a dress from Azzi & Osta. (AFP)

Jordan won for his role as a crusading defense attorney in the film, while Foxx won for his portrayal of the wrongly convicted man he fought for.

Elsewhere, Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Actress in a Film prize for her role in “Us,” and 15-year Marsai Martin won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in “Little” over superstar names including Jennifer Lopez, Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer.

Meanwhile, singer-turned-beauty-mogul Rihanna received the NAACP President’s Award for Special Achievement and Distinguished Public Service. She called for racial, religious and cultural unity during her acceptance speech. “If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that we can only fix this world together,” she stated, adding: “We can’t do it divided.”