At a hearing in 2019 for a vote on a bill that would restrict abortion access in Kentucky, Charles Booker, a state representative at the time, gave an impassioned speech about abortion rights, criticizing politicians who had compared the medical procedure to lynching. When the speaker of the Assembly tried to silence him, Booker yelled, “My life matters, too, speaker,” as an older white man screamed at him to “sit down.”
“I can only imagine that in this white person’s mind, he thought he had the right to tell this Black person to sit down,” Attica Scott, another state representative from Kentucky, says later.
The exchange plays out in the new documentary “From the Hood to the Holler,” directed by Pat McGee. It follows Booker’s subsequent run for Senate in 2020, including a campaign defined by his willingness to walk across that racial divide, traveling to “hollers,” or poor, mostly white communities in Appalachia, to unite impoverished voters. Booker lost narrowly in a Democratic primary against Amy McGrath; some weeks before the election, the documentary notes, he had raised around $300,000 compared to her $29.8 million. (In May, Booker won the primary by a landslide, and he’ll face off against the Republican senator Rand Paul in November.)
The documentary succeeds at presenting Booker as a candidate who can unite voters, and its best scenes show him meeting the moment. In one scene, he mediates between the police and protesters after the death of Breonna Taylor, whom he knew, convincing the officers to drop their batons in a show of solidarity. In another, he strategizes with his team about safety procedures for traveling through places that may have once been considered sundown towns, showing how racism persists in modern-day Kentucky and the nation.
But though Booker’s story and success are inspiring, the documentary falls flat, feeling more like a political tool than a commentary on the state of politics in Kentucky. It would have benefited from less focus on Booker and more on the many Kentuckians he spoke to who are ready for a change.