I want someone like Gabby Giffords to represent me. As I watched Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s remarkable documentary, Gabby Giffords: Won’t Back Down, I was reminded of how a politician could give people hope just by being themselves. She exudes warmth, intelligence, and empathy that feels, sadly, very absent in a lot of politics. A bullet through the head didn’t stop Giffords, and this documentary won’t let that spark of optimism in our elected officials be snuffed out.
Sometimes it feels like we are desensitized to gun violence in this country, because it is a vicious cycle. An event occurs, we follow the news coverage, we get angry, and then we hope something will change in terms of access to dangerous weapons. It never does. Seeing footage of Giffords’ rise to political stardom before her shooting adds another element of sadness to the story, because we are reminded of just how gifted Giffords was at connected with people. She still has that ability to connect with others as we see throughout this film.
Giffords was shot a point blank range in 2011 outside a grocery story at an event designed for constituents to speak to their representatives, and she shouldn’t have survived. I remember when the news broke and being glued to every headline.
There is a public side and a private side to this story or survival, but West and Cohen do not wrestle with pondering which side is more important. Giffords became a face of survival, but the directors show us quite literally how she picked herself back up. Part of Giffords’ recovery involved listening to music in order to help her teach herself how to speak again, and she doesn’t seem like a person who wants to sit by and let people do things for her. It’s not about pride–it’s about giving back and listening to the people who depended on her.
Some might assume that Won’t Back Down is a “liberal smearing of the NRA,” but what these directors do, like Giffords does herself, is present the facts of how gun violence is an epidemic in the United States. The former congresswoman talks about how she owns guns and how she wants to make weapons less accessible, but the security guard on duty at the Safeway that day was carrying a gun and admitted that the chaos could’ve led him to shooting someone else other than the perpetrator. The “good guy with a gun” argument was also proven wrong this week when the surveillance footage from the Uvalde massacre was released. President Obama is on hand to reflect back on his term in office when so many tragedies occurred.
I love the films directed by West and Cohen, because they give us just enough about a real-life figure without dwelling too much on all the details. They capture the essence and purpose of a person, but their films also inspire you to discover truths and history. The Academy Award nominated film, RBG, chartered the late Supreme Court Justice’s life while My Name Is Pauli Murray turned the spotlight onto a non-binary, Black lawyer that most people weren’t even aware of. West and Cohen have a knack for making biographies infinitely more watchable. This is their more urgent film to date.
Gabby Giffords wouldn’t quit on herself or her constituents, so why should we slow down on the issue of gun violence? Won’t Back Down is compelling portrait of one woman whose light cannot be extinguished. We need more people like Giffords in office, and we, ourselves, need to be more like her.
Gabby Giffords: Won’t Back Down is now in theaters.