What did Americans think about the presidential election on November 8 last year?
In the documentary "11/8/16," executive producer Jeff Deutchman follows 16 Americans from all walks of life throughout that day. The result is an eye-opening documentary about the political and cultural divide that continues to polarize Americans.
The film opens at daybreak with Americans across the United States preparing to vote. Deutchman told VOA he had a team of 50 filmmakers follow selected families, from the start of the day until the results came in.
“I worked with each of the filmmakers to try and identify a subject who we thought would bring something to the table, would both be compelling and also would really represent something distinct about America. We wanted to be a broad cross-section of individuals that represented diversity geographically, demographically and ideologically.”
Among the 16 families selected from the dozens who were filmed are a Sikh cabbie supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton in Queens, New York, and a pro-Donald Trump military veteran in Miami, an exonerated African–American convict in Alabama, who has gotten back his right to vote for the first time in 30 years, and Jesus, a DACA recipient in San Jose, California, who feels his future is at stake if Trump were to win.
In West Virginia, a conservative coal miner will be voting for Donald Trump because he is concerned about the future of the coal mining industry, which he feels will be threatened under Hillary Clinton.
The documentary shows that Americans voted on issues they felt affected them personally.
The film also reveals how many people believed the media projections that Hillary Clinton was going to win. As the voting booths opened that day, pollsters were projecting a 7 percent to 29 percent chance of a Trump victory.
Deutchman says his documentary reveals deep cultural divisions in American society that the news media missed. He says liberal voters from urban areas listened to those with similar views from media that did not cover the rural areas as vigorously.
“I think it’s important not to get stuck in the echo chambers that we all live in. We surround ourselves with people virtually and in real life that are like-minded, and I understand that," said Deutchman. "I do it as much as anyone. But I think it’s really important to try and regularly confront the fact of how big this country is and to allow that vastness to inform the decisions that we make about how we vote and how we speak.”
The film does not take sides. The audience gets invested in these 16 characters, who, despite their political leanings, make compelling arguments based on their circumstances.
As the day progresses, the lens follows the coal miner’s family as they angrily react to a comment on TV ‘that there is anger in the hinterlands.’
In Massachusetts, a conservative, small businessman named Tom, proudly wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, is voting for Trump because he believes the economy will improve under his administration.
“If the economy got better, and I was bringing more people or more work into my shop, and I can delegate a little bit more, I’d be able to spend more time with my family. That’s huge for me,” he said.
In an on-camera exchange between Tom and his more skeptical wife, Gina, "11/8/16" shows how campaign messages and partisan media feed into people’s prejudices and fears.
Tony believes Hillary Clinton will be elected for all the wrong reasons.
“When Hillary gets elected, and I think she’ll get elected because she is gonna ..." he says to his wife, who finishes his sentence, "... cheat?” Tony continues, “She’s gonna cheat, she’s gonna raise the taxes on everybody and health care right now is crushing us anyway, so I’m concerned that we will have a tough time making ends meet.”
On the other side of the spectrum, the film also shows the concerns of minorities if Donald Trump were to win. As the results start tilting toward a Republican victory, a Hispanic family in San Jose, California, is getting teary-eyed at the prospect of being separated by a hardline immigration policy.
A year later, Deutchman tells VOA that America remains deeply polarized along the same lines. He said he hopes films like his, by humanizing the American electorate, can encourage dialogue.
“I think each of us needs to understand that we live in a very big country, and we pay a lot of lip service to the value of living in America and the value of living in a democracy, but part of what that means is that this is an enormous tent that contains multitudes of different types of people — and that includes people who are everywhere on the spectrum of education level. This is what democracy is,” he said.