Following the 2016 presidential election, a record number of women ran for Congressional seats in 2018. They were dissatisfied with how they were being represented in government and came to the conclusion that no man could ever represent them better than they themselves could. They looked in the mirror and said, “Somebody has to do something. Why not me?”
“SURGE” tells the story of three women running for Congress: Jana Lynne Sanchez, Liz Watson and Lauren Underwood. All three saw their government was failing them and realized they wouldn’t stand for it anymore. First-time co-director Wendy Sachs followed these women through Texas, Indiana and Illinois and documented their successes and their failures. She and her all-women team documented their journeys “through the female lens” for the world to see and be inspired even further.
To use Sachs’s own words, “there was a movement underway.” Women were standing up and taking charge, marching and running. They refused to settle for a male-dominated government. America should not and cannot be a male-dominated force when there are so many strong and empowered women who can make a difference and do good.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Sachs said she and the creators of “SURGE” picked Sanchez, Watson and Underwood because they were “women that represented different experiences.” Each woman came with a different story, a different background, just as all women in America do. No two people have the same life story, and she wanted to make sure that that message got across to the women watching. “Diversity is where we thrive. When we have a diversity of opinion and we bring more people’s experiences to the table, we’re going to create a better government for everyone,” Sachs said.
The other aspect of the film that Sachs wanted to make sure that all viewers, not only women, understood was just how hard it is for women to run for governmental positions. “I am in such awe of the women who run for office,” she said. “Watching Jana and Lauren and Liz fight the fight … was tremendously inspiring and empowering to me, as a filmmaker.” And it’s also inspiring for the viewers to see the grit and perseverance required for these women to run for a position of power in government.
The beauty of the film is its juxtaposition of realism and optimism. The audience gets the privilege of an inside look into a real-time, real-life campaign, seeing the struggles that the women go through, seeing how hard they work. But they also see just how much the women care about what they’re doing. They’re not just running to win — they’re running because it’s right. They’re running because they can do what needs to be done.
Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-I.L.), Illinois native, U-M Nursing School graduate and the only woman in “SURGE” to win her tough election, had a hard road ahead of her when she decided to run for Congress. Her job of campaigning and working to represent the people of Naperville was a feat in itself, but she also decided to have her vulnerable and important political journey documented for the entire world to see.
“I was excited to work [on “SURGE”] with Wendy and Hannah [Rosenzweig] because I felt that they really understood what we were trying to accomplish in this community,” Congresswoman Underwood said in an interview with The Daily. “What I was embarking on was hard, and I felt that they would tell the story with integrity and not project some agenda on what we were seeking to accomplish.”
In “SURGE”, viewers saw every moment, good and bad, that the candidates had to deal with. Congresswoman Underwood even thought that she lost on election day. “I had gotten this feeling in my body that said ‘something’s not right’ … I can’t be in this room full of people and get this bad news,” she said. She did win, of course, but seeing that moment when she realized that she had won, being in that moment with her, is indescribable.
Congresswoman Underwood told me there were many women that she looked up to, ranging from her elementary school days of seeing Oprah Winfrey as “the most powerful [woman] in the world” to her early days in Congress, looking up to Shirley Chisholm. Another woman who inspired her from a young age was “Senator Carol Moseley Braun, the first, and at that time the only, Black woman to serve the United States Senate.”
“She looked like me, and I knew she was powerful and I knew that she represented me. I was so inspired and proud to have someone like her represent me … I knew that she carried my voice … I was a young girl with these incredible role models that I perceived as powerful because they actually had power and respect and validation from others. And they struck me as very normal, regular women, and I could be like them,” Underwood said.
She is just like them. Since making history as the youngest Black woman to ever serve in Congress, Underwood has already begun to make sweeping changes for the better. Just by witnessing her everlasting effort in “SURGE” to make a difference, I knew she would make just as big of an impact on the world as the women that she looked up to. Hearing what she has accomplished since “SURGE,” such as working with Senator Kamala Harris on Black maternal health issues, only solidified my belief that she will continue to do amazing things.
Both Sachs and Congresswoman Underwood want “SURGE” to make an impact on people as citizens and voters. The timing of the movie couldn’t be more relevant with the upcoming election, and they acknowledge and embrace that.
“We all have to do our part,” Congresswoman Underwood said. “That means voting in this election, that means showing up and engaging in our neighbors and communities to make sure that no one feels forgotten, left behind or silenced and that means when we see something that’s not right, that we step up and do something about it.”
Sachs had the same message: “Do something, anything. See yourself as that agent of change … get involved, show up, use your voice, do something and make sure you’re voting.”
If “SURGE” reveals anything to audiences, it’s that women aren’t just relevant in politics; they are integral to the foundation of America’s government. “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, and truer words have never been spoken.
“The question that we asked throughout the film was ‘Is this a moment or is it a movement?’” Sachs told me, as she outlined the timeline of women marching, running and now winning. And I think we both have the same answer.
It’s a movement.
Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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