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Civil rights legend, lawmaker, leader: Watch the John Lewis doc 'Good Trouble'

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
U.S. Rep. John Lews, D.-Ga., died Friday, July 17, 2020, at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. (Image credit: Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images)

You don't just see John Lewis. You don't just watch the man who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 40 years. You don't just listen to the speeches and laugh at his jokes.

No, John Lewis is an experience. You feel John Lewis. You feel the love of a man who has known as much pain as anyone — because when you've experienced what he's experienced in his life, love is the only way forward. He knew that in life, even after his skull was fractured for the sin of marching for civil rights in the Deep South. He knew it decades later as America entered a new struggle. And he knew it at the end of his life.

Lewis died on Friday, July 17, 2020, after a relatively short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old.

His life and his legacy and his love were captured in the 2020 documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble, by filmmaker Dawn Porter. It's a must-watch anytime, but this weekend, especially.

Work on Good Trouble actually began some time before Lewis announced he was undergoing treatment for Stage IV pancreatic cancer in late December 2019. But as anyone who's been exposed to someone fighting that particularly brutal form of the disease would tell you, the clock was ticking down, not up.

“In practical terms, we didn’t have a lot of time to complete this film,” producer Laura Michalchyshyn said alongside the release of the film. “Many documentarians spend three, four, or even five years on a single project, but we managed to deliver a finished film in less than two years thanks to the dedication of everyone on our team.”

Porter, who directed the 96-minute movie, also wanted to tell the stories we maybe hadn't heard already, particularly since the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery was only five years behind us, and the award-winning movie from director Ava DuVernay came out a year prior, in 2014. 

“A lot of people know about John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge," Porter said. "And they know he stood next to Martin Luther King Jr., but they don’t know who he is beyond that. So, one of the challenges on this film was allowing Congressman Lewis the space to talk about his lesser-known work, like his experience as a young activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.”

Plus, dude was still working in the U.S. House of Representatives — and occasionally crowdsurfing on late-night talk shows.

“There were a lot of logistical and technical issues we had to deal with in order to gain access and follow him around the Capitol,” Porter said. “Beyond that, simply keeping up with our then-79-year-old subject was a bit of a challenge in itself. As you can see in the film, he’s very energetic and busy.”

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The Selma March

U.S. Rep. John Lewis in the documentary "Good Trouble." (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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The Selma March

U.S. Rep. John Lewis in front of film of him with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King at the Selma March. (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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The Selma March

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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The Selma March

U.S. Rep. John Lewis in the documentary "Good Trouble." (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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The Selma March

The march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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Director Dawn Porter

Dawn Porter, director of "Good Trouble." (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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The Selma March

U.S. Rep. John Lewis. (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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The Selma March

Protests met by police in Selma, Ala. (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)
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The Selma March

The protests in Selma, Ala. (Image credit: Magnolia Pictures)

How to watch John Lewis: Good Trouble

The documentary is available on-demand from most major outlets, including:

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations, is the Dad part of Modern Dad, and is editor of WhatToWatch.com.