McCourtney Institute, State Theatre partner to screen gerrymandering documentary

May 20, 2020
The McCourtney Institute for Democracy and The State Theatre are partnering for a virtual screening of the documentary "Slay The Dragon." Tickets are available through May 26.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy and The State Theatre are partnering for a virtual screening of the documentary "Slay The Dragon." Tickets are available through May 26.

IMAGE: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For nearly a decade, individuals and grassroots groups across the country have been working to ensure that the process of drawing new congressional maps next year is fair and corruption-free. A new documentary chronicles their journey in the fight to end gerrymandering in states across the country — including Pennsylvania.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy is sponsoring a virtual screening of the film “Slay The Dragon” through May 26 in partnership with The State Theatre in downtown State College. Each ticket buys on-demand access to the film for three days on any streaming device, and a portion of the proceeds from every ticket sold will benefit the theater.

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of an electoral district’s boundaries to provide one party with an advantage over an opposing party. The term was coined in 1812 in response to the redrawing of Massachusetts state senate districts in a bill signed by Governor Elbridge Gerry. One of the resulting districts was so weirdly shaped that critics said it resembled a mythical, dragon-like salamander.

“In every election, politicians seek to gain an advantage over their opponents,” said “Slay The Dragon” co-director Charles Durrance. “But until 2010, there was a set of unwritten rules about gerrymandering: both sides did it, but they didn’t push it to great extremes. It was almost a gentleman’s agreement.”

Since 2010, gerrymandering has been used by Republicans and Democrats to gain disproportionate advantages for their parties in Congress and state governments. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the legislature to draw new maps after those drawn in 2010 were found to be excessively gerrymandered. The legal action came following years of grassroots organizing by groups like Fair Districts PA and Draw The Lines PA.

Following the 2010 redistricting process, a number of citizens groups formed in states across the country in an effort to move the redistricting process away from state legislatures and into the hands of citizen-led independent redistricting commissions that would be less vulnerable to extreme partisan gerrymandering.

“The film really clicked into gear when we came across Katie Fahey, who was running what was then a fledgling online group of political neophytes who had decided to take on gerrymandering in Michigan,” Durrance said. “That’s when we realized this was a film that could live in the present, but a present informed by what had happened in the recent past.”

In 2018, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy awarded its Brown Democracy Medal to Michah Altman and Michael McDonald for their work on the Public Mapping Project, an open-source platform that makes data available to independent mapmakers. The Institute also interviewed State College Area High School student and redistricting advocate Kyle Hynes on its Democracy Works podcast.

For more information about “Slay The Dragon” and to purchase a ticket for a virtual screening, visit the film’s website.

Last Updated May 20, 2020