Dawn Porter on Documenting Rep. John Lewis: 'Telling Untold and Overlooked Stories Is Good Trouble'

Dawn Porter, left, speaks onstage during the 2018 IDA Documentary Awards on December 8, 2018; Behind-the-scenes footage from John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020)
Dawn Porter, left, speaks onstage during the 2018 IDA Documentary Awards on December 8, 2018; Behind-the-scenes footage from John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020)
Photo: Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for International Documentary Association (Getty Images), Courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment (Getty Images)

It’s been a few months since the world lost one of its greatest, Rep. John Lewis, and of course, his grand legacy will live on. One of the ways that has been made possible is the recent documentary chronicling his 60-plus years of activism, John Lewis: Good Trouble. Directed by Dawn Porter, John Lewis: Good Trouble is an intimate look into the incredible journey from his teenage life to the front lines of the Civil Rights movement.

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For any filmmaker, the work is never done. Even once you’re watching it onscreen, there is always a self-editing process on what you wish you could’ve changed or added. A creator’s mind never stops, and even as an acclaimed filmmaker who helmed this rich documentary honoring Lewis’ legacy, Porter still wishes she could’ve included more about his story in the film.

“I wish that there were more people who could have told us about his early life,” Porter exclusively tells The Root. “We were able to speak with family members, but it would have been a treat to really learn more about his origin story. Every superhero has an origin story and I would have loved to tell that story through the eyes of a parent or grandparent. There is a somewhat famous story about John Lewis and his chickens—that he was a boy on the farm who fell in love with tending the chickens and wanted to be a preacher one day. I have heard John’s version of that story, but I would be interested to know what his mother would have said about him as a child.”

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Still, she will take the many lessons she learned from filming the doc onward.

“I was originally trained as an attorney and given my background in law and my interest in activism, there are times when I wonder if I should be closer to the frontlines of the fight,” Porter shared. “But, whenever I question whether making documentaries is the best way I can contribute to advancing the cause of justice, to racial justice, reproductive justice, to improving indigent defense in this country, I think of what John Lewis has said about the importance of nonviolent protest.”

“He has said many times that nonviolence and nonviolent resistance to injustice is not merely the absence of violence,” she adds. “He would say that nonviolence is about pulling back the rug and sweeping out the filth, bringing it into the light where it can be properly reckoned with. The core ethos of documentary filmmaking could be boiled down to that point as well—that it is about bringing hidden, dark, dirty things into the light so we can understand them and deal with them then change things for the better. John Lewis never had a qualification for what ‘good trouble’ is, but telling untold and overlooked stories is indeed good trouble.”

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Word.

In a sneak peek clip from the doc obtained by The Root, 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also spoke on how the legacy of Lewis impacted her to keep fighting for voter’s rights, namely through her organization Fair Fight. Lewis was one of Fair Fight’s biggest advocates. Clearly, as we are nearing closer and closer to an unprecedented presidential election, the complex conversation on voting (including voter suppression and beyond) is quite significant.

Stacey Abrams in John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020) / Courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment

“My responsibility following in the legacy, the legend and model of John Lewis is saying, ‘Not today!’,” Abrams muses in the clip. “That we are not going to let you do this to us—that we are going to fight back. Because we understand that if you’re going to fight for electoral integrity, you have to fight for it every single day.”

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John Lewis: Good Trouble is now available on digital and DVD.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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