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Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down review
Image: SXSW

Film

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down Tells the Inspiring Story of a Survivor 

SXSW 2022: Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down Review

Rep. Gabby Giffords was a Congresswoman from Arizona who, in 2011, was shot in the head during a political event and nearly died. Six people did die in that shooting, one a 10-year-old girl. 

Giffords’ slow but steady recovery, and her advocacy for common-sense gun laws, have inspired many over the past decade, and now it’s the subject of a new documentary, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down.

The film premiered at the South by Southwest film festival and is under the auspices of CNN Films, meaning that it’s likely headed to CNN eventually. It’s an undoubtedly inspiring film, although there’s not a ton of new information in it for those who know Giffords’ story. 

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down was directed by the team of  Julie Cohen and Betsy West, best known for the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG; it’s clear they specialize in hyper-earnest documentaries about female Democratic heroes. (They also directed last year’s fine My Name is Pauli Murray, as well as one about Julia Child.) 

Eleven years after she was shot, Giffords still walks with a cane, doesn’t speak the way she used to, and has trouble remembering certain words. But she has made major progress, to the point where she can give speeches and interviews- while also coaching her novice politician husband in the finer points of political speechmaking. 

Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down
Image: SXSW

The film goes through Giffords’ life story, including her early time in Congress, up until the shooting itself and her long rehab and recovery. We see her with her husband Mark Kelly, the former astronaut who is now a U.S. Senator from Arizona, holding a seat that Giffords had once considered running for herself. Many watching will undoubtedly envision the two of them as our next First Couple. 

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down also explores the couple’s gun advocacy, which pointedly does not call for any banning or confiscation of guns, but rather background checks, closing loopholes, and other such measures —none of which passed, despite a big push from the Obama Administration after the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. Barack Obama himself appears in the doc, even though it’s not part of his Netflix production deal. 

The film, while eloquent about the many tragedies that have happened since,  pushes the faulty narrative that the National Rifle Association and the cash they donate to politicians is the only thing standing in the way of robust gun control, when in fact pressure from voters has a lot more to do with it. The NRA having collapsed in scandal in recent years hasn’t led to new gun legislation; in fact, gun ownership — and violence with it — has increased by the millions. 

Also, the documentary acknowledges that Kelly, running in Arizona, cannot hit the gun policy stuff too hard; I saw him give a corporate speech a few years ago in which he didn’t mention it at all. 

For those who followed the Giffords story at the time, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is an inspiring look at the imperfect but still notable progress she has made in the years since. 

  • Steven Silver

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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