‘Watching John Lewis watch himself’: Dawn Porter’s documentary on the civil rights icon

Political Theater, Episode 133

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is seen near the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Capitol Rotunda before a memorial service for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in Statuary Hall on Thursday, October 24, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is seen near the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Capitol Rotunda before a memorial service for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in Statuary Hall on Thursday, October 24, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Jason Dick
Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:00am

Filmmaker Dawn Porter had a unique challenge in making a documentary about Rep. John Lewis, the 80-year-old Georgia Democrat who has been a civil rights hero for more than half a century. How do you say something new and interesting about someone so familiar?

“John Lewis has been asked every question about his life multiple times. And so he has a way of describing these moments. And we wanted to interrupt that compulsion and see if we could get some other details,” Porter says on the latest Political Theater podcast.

One way to do that was through having him watch archival footage of himself as a teenager, all the way to the present day. It pays off in her new film, “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” as Lewis starts telling stories about his life that have seldom been heard.

Porter’s previous project, the Netflix miniseries “Bobby Kennedy for President,” showed the deep connection between Kennedy and Lewis in the civil rights era, and also provided valuable archival material that led Porter straight into this new film, which will be available on demand on Friday, July 3.

This episode is the second part of our interview with Porter. The first, which aired last month, focused on Lewis himself. In part two, Porter and I discuss the relationship between Kennedy and Lewis, as well as the relationship between the two projects; some of the cool behind-the-scenes craft that went into the film; and the decisions she made as a documentarian to portray the persons behind the public personae.

Show Notes: