John Lewis must be exhausted by the end of each day. If one is to believe John Lewis: Good Trouble, the former-activist-turned-congressman is lauded and thanked nearly every moment for his role in getting Black Americans equal rights. Though director Dawn Porter’s film flirts with hagiography, we do see a politician who remains determined to serve his people through clear-eyed legislation, even as he enters the twilight of his career.

Now in his third decade in Congress, Lewis still carries the spark that saw him arrested more times than the years he has served as a representative from the state of Georgia. If anything, the film shows us that he doggedly fights to beat back the forces that threaten to hurl Black Americans back to the Jim Crow era.

An acolyte of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis joined the fight for equal rights while a teenager through sit-in protests at lunch counters and joining the Freedom Riders in their fight against segregation on busses. Through archival footage, Porter takes us through this tumultuous period, from the March on Washington to the notorious walk from Selma to Montgomery where Alabama cops brutalized Lewis and many other marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. For history buffs, the material included here may seem surface-level, but it’s an important primer for those unaware of what transpired during the ‘60s.

The present-day sections of the documentary don’t really penetrate Lewis, now 80 and battling pancreatic cancer. Instead, we see him supporting other Black lawmakers, including Stacey Abrams, who lost her 2018 gubernatorial bid in Georgia after GOP voter suppression. If anything, Lewis has risen to become the patron saint of Black Americans and that’s a great thing. It would just have been a more incisive documentary if we could get closer to the man.

There are some moments where Lewis is vulnerable, yet Porter does not go deep enough. We learn that his wife, Lillian Miles, has passed away, but beyond showing us the art collection she accrued, the woman is barely mentioned in the film. We also see the contentious 1986 election between Lewis and friend Julian Bond that eventually turned ugly. Lewis ultimately won and we learn that the race did irreparable damage to their relationship, but there is much more to explore.

In an era where Donald Trump is actively working to strip away Barack Obama’s legacy and return the country to a dark era for Black Americans, we need more politicians like John Lewis. With the Black Lives Matter movement recently gaining momentum, the work that Lewis and King began in the ‘60s is not even close to finished. Instead of so many scenes of people thanking Lewis, Porter could have made her film a call to arms, a war cry for those looking to stir up a bit of good trouble.

Summary
Though director Dawn Porter’s film flirts with hagiography, we do see a politician who remains determined to serve his people through clear-eyed legislation.
60 %
Decent Trouble
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