Directed by Keith Patterson and Phillip Schopper
The unapologetically liberal All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State profiles a species that’s harder to find in the real world today than fairies, unicorns, and vampires combined—the truly powerful Democratic politician in Texas. Even stranger than Richards’s ascent to her state’s governorship—and damn if it isn’t as strange as hell—is the fact that it wasn’t exactly ancient history.
Richards’s political career began in the early 1980s when she was elected State Treasurer and becomes the first female official elected to Texas state office in 50 years. Her goal: open the Treasurer’s office up to women and minorities. The result: lots and lots of money coming into the state of Texas.
A woman without fear and (perhaps more importantly) a natural comedienne, Richards spoke during prime time at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in favor of her party’s presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis. And like many did in 2004 when Barack Obama amusingly and inspiringly led in for John Kerry, many wondered why the one introducing wasn’t the nominee.
The pull-no-punches speech put her—a full-blooded Texan—at odds with Dukakis’s opponent, eventual president George H.W. Bush—a Connecticut blue blood who doesn’t even own his own gun, for crying out loud. It’s a rivalry that rarely does more than simmer during Bush’s presidency, which ironically coincides with Richards’ 4 years in the Texas governor’s mansion. All About Ann will ultimately be sold—and for good reason—on Richards’s overcoming enormous election challenges involving her gender and political philosophy, but even more interesting is this Richards vs. Bush (times two!) dynamic.
Yes, there’s a fair amount of George W. Bush in this film. In fact, All About Ann lays groundwork all the way back in the late 1980s that would eventually lead rather straightforwardly to America’s 43rd presidency. It started with Richards…well, to be more specific, it started with a conservative millionaire named Clayton Williams, who happened to be Richards’s opponent for governor in 1990. Against a more reasonable Republican candidate, someone like Richards would have lost by 10 electoral points or more. But Williams is a guy who makes jokes about rape, refuses to shake the hand of his female adversary, and may or may not have ever paid income taxes on his personal fortune. It’s almost hard to believe the events depicted happened just 25 years ago, that individuals like him held sway in public life. At that time and in that place, however, the people went with Richards. And while she did great things and held high approval numbers, she ultimately left office after her first term and a hard-fought battle against the junior Bush, whose governorship was his primary qualification when he ran for president.
The documentary, however, is all about Ann—not George—so it devotes plenty of time to Richards’ political accomplishments, as well as her post-political career and, sadly, her death. Hers was a life lived hard and well. She came a long way, and through charm, smarts, and passion, she accomplished a ton while overcoming huge obstacles like a painful divorce and alcoholism. It’s most definitely a life worthy of a feature-length documentary like this (which premieres on HBO on April 28), even if it isn’t the most elegantly or uniquely composed. The form is hardly challenged by directors Keith Patterson and Phillip Schopper, but you’ll hardly notice. All About Ann, like its titular heroine, is folksy and delightful.
– John Gilpatrick