After an encounter with Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton turns unemployed coal miner Bo Copley into a political celebrity, he embarks on an unlikely run for the United States Senate seat of West Virginia in Todd Drezner’s well-timed documentary, The Campaign Of Miner Bo.
In 2016, the UK and the US both had elections whose results have done nothing but bitterly divide their respective countries. In June 2016, the UK voted 52% to 48% for Brexit while in November of that same year, the US public voted for Donald Trump to become President of The United States. Despite losing the popular vote 46% to Clinton’s 48%, Trump became President due to his winning of the electoral college.
Now, in October 2020, with a new American election merely weeks away, director Todd Drezner gives us a timely reminder that there are still some heroes to be found amongst the rubble of The American Constitution.
The Campaign Of Miner Bo is a documentary that does exactly what it’s title suggests, it follows the political aspirations of Bo Copley – a white-collar, working-class miner from West Virginia. A Republican supporter, Bo is a likable lead character to watch; he is a dedicated family man who loves his wife, his kids, his work, and God. He’s the all American “everyman”, an idealist, the underdog. He is the type of hero we have seen throughout the history of American cinema. If this were a fictional piece of work, every big star would have been clamoring for this role. Bo would have been played by Henry Fonda in the ’30s, Jimmy Stewart in the ’40s, Jack Lemmon in the 50’s Paul Newman in the ’60s, Richard Dreyfuss in the ’70s, and Tom Hanks ’80s, 90’s and 00’s.
Bo’s story starts when he loses his mining job due to the governments push towards greener energy, then he hears the US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton say,
“We are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”
With West Virginia being an industrial town that has mining at its centre, Clinton loses this state almost immediately. Months later, somewhat fortuitously, Bo is chosen to meet with the now Democratic Presidential nominee during a visit to his state. Here he questions her on the seemingly cold statement she made, shows her a picture of his family that her actions would destroy, then calmly and concisely pushes a dagger straight through her heart.
It’s a powerful moment that not only changes the course of the election but also changes Bo’s life as he becomes a political celebrity appearing on talk shows and news channels – all of which want him to give them his political opinions. So, with the help of a lawyer friend who becomes his campaign manager, Bo decides to use this platform to run for The Senate.
Not just filmed in the talking heads-style, Drezner’s documentary follows Bo all around his state recording the surroundings and catching both managed and accidental meetings with the public and officials he deals with. The editing keeps these incidents clear and easy to understand, while also using quick cuts to Bo’s emotional state which helps to increase the tension during the election night results.
There are some very eye-opening scenes during the 75-minute runtime.
Bo has nothing but good intentions, yet he is clearly out of his depth, due to politics being a lifestyle he is simply not used to. Bo coaches football at the weekends, surrounded by hundreds of friends and potential voters. His campaign manager is aghast that he isn’t campaigning and asking for their votes, but Bo is adamant he doesn’t need to, he believes somewhat naively that if people agree with him they will automatically vote for him.
Another time, Bo visits a group of teachers on strike outside a school, most of whom are Democrats fighting for better pay. Bo wants to speak to the other side to see how they feel, he just wants to help. As he canvasses the crowd he is greeted enthusiastically and supportively, but when he is asked by them why he thinks the teachers are striking? He struggles to answer and it becomes clear he doesn’t actually know.
Director Drezner is a staunch democrat but he doesn’t snipe or attack the opposition here. The only thing he hammers home is that Clinton’s statement, which became the key to Bo’s entire story arc, had actually been taken out of context. Nonetheless, he gives us a very thoughtful and considered piece of work that helps us believe that even if we don’t all share the same views, we all want the same things. Peace, love, and a more balanced country.
The biggest conclusion we come to with The Campaign Of Miner Bo is that running for office is a prohibitively expensive decision for ordinary people to make. Sadly working-class idealists like Bo. people who could actually benefit the system will never be able to compete with the well-backed career politicians and as long as that remains the case, the swamp will never be drained.