I have been watching quite a lot of House of Cards the last couple of weeks and really like that show. Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is a politician with lots of experience who knows how to use it to influence people and change the situation to his advantage. Watching it I was hoping things like in the series don’t happen in real life, but as this documentary shows a lot of shocking actions can be taken by those in power to make sure they can keep the position they are in.
The setting for Street Fight is the election for mayor in 2002. The two people running for the job are Sharpe James, who had been the mayor since 1986 and Cory Booker, a highly educated man who really wants to make a change and who despite his education decided to live in a poor neighbourhood to make sure he is informed about the issues. Director Marshall Curry follows Booker during his campaign. Documenting from the point of view from one of the campaign groups made me wonder at the start of this movie if this would result in a very biased view of what was going on, but it did not take long to be shocked by what I was seeing. A good villain in a documentary can make it a lot more interesting to watch. King of Kong is a good example of it where Billy Mitchell seemed to enjoy playing that role. Sharpe James however doesn’t feature a lot (simply because he did not allow Curry to film and made sure he was kept from doing so), but through his actions makes it very clear that he uses and (seems to) abuses his power to make sure that Booker’s chances at winning are severely decreased.
During this documentary there are so many shocking examples shown. Posters that the Booker campaign has put up are painted over, police officers threaten business owners to shut them down if they show support for Booker and statements Sharpe James makes about his opponent are often disrespectful or simply false. Despite all that Booker seems to be unmoved and knows that winning the election is all about fighting it out on the street, visiting neighbourhoods, talking to people and trying to change their views about a man who most people grew up with and making sure they see the change he can bring.
Street Fight really shocked me as it shows that politics can be a very dirty business and that in New Jersey the reality at the time (don’t know if this has changed) was that the city was run by someone who to me came across as some sort of Tony Soprano. The word democracy does not really seems to apply to the situation which makes this such a powerful documentary to watch. Even if you are not big on politics it manages to really show the corruption that power can bring.