From left: Jim Obergefell, Laverne Cox, and Will Smith will be among those exploring the Fourteenth Amendment's significance.
Laverne Cox, Samira Wiley, Mahershala Ali, Diane Lane, Randall Park, and more will be featured in a new Netflix documentary series, Amend: The Fight for America, which explores the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as the nation’s most enduring hallmark of democracy.
The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, promised equal protection of the laws to all citizens, which it defined as those born or naturalized in the U.S. Its most important purpose at the time was to assure the rights of Black Americans, most of whom had been enslaved until a few years earlier. But it has resonated in many fights for civil rights; for instance, it has been the foundation for court rulings in favor of marriage rights for interracial couples and same-sex couples. And one episode of the series centers on marriage equality, framed by the love story of Supreme Court plaintiff Jim Obergefell and his husband, John Arthur.
The six-episode series is executive-produced by Larry Wilmore (The Daily Show) and Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith, who also serves as host.
“I am honored to present Amend: The Fight for America,” Smith said in press notes for the series. “We are living in unprecedented days as a society, as a country, and as a human family. I believe that the cultivation of personal and historical understanding is the imperative spark igniting the flames of desperately needed compassion and healing. As Americans, we endeavor to form a more perfect union that truly establishes justice and equality for all. I believe a deeper understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment is a critical jumping-off point. Our hope with this series is to illuminate the beauty that is the promise of America and to share a message of connection and shared humanity so that we will be able to better understand and celebrate our different experiences as Americans and promote progress toward the true equality promised to all persons under the Fourteenth Amendment. I'm grateful to Netflix and the phenomenal group of people who came together both in front of and behind the camera to help us tell this story.”
Wilmore said that when Smith pitched the series to him, “I loved that it would focus on the Fourteenth Amendment and that he didn’t want to do something that felt partisan; rather, something that was about America for Americans, while also being very truthful about the history.”
The featured actors will read the words of a variety of historical figures who were involved in activism relating to the Fourteenth Amendment, some of whom sought to limit its application and some who fought to expand it. These include Cox as author and civil rights advocate James Baldwin; Ali as abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Courtney B. Vance as Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights lawyer who became the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice; Samuel L. Jackson as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Wiley as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Aja Naomi King as activist Angela Davis; Park as Robert F. Kennedy, the senator and attorney general; Sterling K. Brown as John Lewis, activist and congressman; Lane as Justice Earl Warren; Bobby Cannavale as Justice Antonin Scalia; and many more.
“We knew we wanted a performative element, but that can be tricky,” Wilmore explained in the press notes. “You don’t want to alienate your audience by having something that feels too staged, especially on television. It needed to be cinematic, but also theatrical.” He and Smith, he said, “finally settled on having the actors read and interpret moments of written history, but without being in costume as the character. And I feel like we got the tone right. I’m so proud when I see someone like Mahershala Ali reading Frederick Douglass; he represents exactly what we wanted to do. He gives enough drama, but it’s not overdone.”
Also featured will be numerous experts in law, policy, and culture, including Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; David Blight, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian; Brittany Packnett Cunningham, former executive director for Teach for America in St. Louis; Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general nominee; Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Columbia University; Khalil Muhammad, professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard University; Garrett Epps, professor of law at the University of Baltimore; and a variety of others.
The first episode of the series deals with the origins of the amendment; the second with how the cause of racial equality was undermined in from the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century; the third with Black Americans’ fight for civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s; the fourth with women’s struggle for equal rights; the fifth with LGBTQ+ rights, including marriage equality; and the sixth with the treatment of immigrants.
Amend will be available on Netflix beginning February 17. Watch the trailer below.