Vote with your feet: film, music, art and more to engage you politically

From the heroic Mr Smith using political institutions to clear his name to Naomi Klein’s exposé of the sharp end of globalisation, our critics choose political cultural works that inspire


There are plenty of brilliant political movies – but almost all are satirical and ironic. Frank Capra’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington is different. It inspires you to think well of the political process. And incredibly, it makes that most boring of political manoeuvres – the filibuster – seem heroic. James Stewart’s Mr Smith, the “Mr Smith” of the title, is homely and innocent, but he is a politician, a junior senator. And when he comes to Washington and is tricked and made to look guilty by corrupt veterans of the system, Mr Smith works with that system. By speaking nonstop for 25 hours about American ideals on the floor of the Senate, Mr Smith can impede their crooked plans and prove his own innocence – an almost Christ-like ordeal that results in his vindication. Peter Bradshaw

In a good place … Muna.
In a good place … Muna. Photograph: Frank Ockenfels


Political pop is hard to get right. Some artists, such as Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, are adept; other efforts like Katy Perry’s “purposeful pop” and Justin Timberlake’s woodsy wokeness fall flat. But the LA trio Muna’s queer call to arms, I Know a Place

, is a good one: this 2016 song was a response to the tragic shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando. It was also a rallying cry: a reminder for queer people to celebrate survival, community and resilience. At a time when hostility towards LGBTQ+ people, notably trans people, remains a pressing concern, this song’s sense of solidarity is as resonant as ever. Alim Kheraj

Book of revelations … The Shock Doctrine.
Book of revelations … The Shock Doctrine. Photograph: PR


Naomi Klein became a star in 1999 with No Logo, her stylish manifesto against globalised consumerism, but her fierce 2007 follow-up remains just as relevant. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism demonstrates with forensic fury how catastrophes both natural and manmade have provided the excuse for financial predators to remake societies in their wake, from the economic “shock therapy” visited on Latin America during the 1970s to the mass privatisation of Iraqi institutions following the 2003 invasion. Readers may be inspired to apply a similar diagnosis to, for example, the imposition of “austerity” following the financial crisis – and whatever is smuggled in post-Covid. Steven Poole

Everything’s gone green … eco-art pioneer Joseph Beuys.
Everything’s gone green … eco-art pioneer Joseph Beuys. Photograph: Ullstein Bild/Getty


The art of environmental protest was born 50 years ago when the great Josef Beuys led his art college students to bless, purify and preserve a woodland outside Düsseldorf. The Grafenberger Wald was under threat to make way for a tennis court. Whatever symbolic power marching through the trees with birch sticks may have had, it certainly created enough publicity to save the wald. Beuys also started the land artwork 7000 Oak Trees, planting trees as a political and artistic act long before the current crisis. Jonathan Jones

Winging it … Hearty at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe.
Winging it … Hearty at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe. Photograph: Maurizio Martorana


The knife-edge tips of the wings look like they could carve shapes into your skin. Her injured tail drags behind her. Dressed as a grungy, angelic revolutionary, Emma Frankland (above) stalks the stage in Hearty, a full-bodied cry for the protection of trans women. This solo show paints a broken-down world where activism is branded, bodies are policed and being trans is a visceral danger. With a recent hideous surge in transphobic hate crimes, reality doesn’t feel that far away. At once fierce and vulnerable, Hearty makes you want to fight alongside Frankland, to brave the fireballs, and join the revolution. Kate Wyver


Peter Bradshaw, Jonathan Jones, Alim Kheraj, Steven Poole and Kate Wyver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Want horror for Halloween? Critics pick music, books, games and more to help
From a creepy Hollywood comedy to trick or treat for gamers, Guardian critics suggest their cultural classics

Peter Bradshaw, Alison Flood, Keza MacDonald, Phil Harrison and Jenessa Williams

31, Oct, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Something for the weekend: film, music and more for May Day bank holiday
From a spot of Quadrophenia to a good innings with The English Game, our critics suggest art to inspire the best use of your extra day of free time

Sasha Mistlin, Kadish Morris, Steve Rose, Jason Okundaye and Jenessa Williams

30, Apr, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Feeling lonely? Film, music, art and more that will put you in good company
From the stark horror of Hamsun’s novel to Fassbinder’s commentary on love and racism, our critics choose great cultural works about being alone

Sam Jordison, Jenessa Williams, Danny Leigh, Jonathan Jones and Hannah J Davies

06, Dec, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Darling buds: books, music, theatre and more with spring in their hearts
From Chaucer’s elemental epic to Gnarls Barkley’s alternative take on gospel, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by the return of sunnier skies

Miriam Gillinson, Jonathan Jones, Sam Jordison, Jessica Kiang and Christine Ochefu

28, Mar, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Cultural prescription: film, books, plays and more to help you embrace autumn
From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to When Harry Met Sally, Guardian critics suggest comforting culture for the changing seasons

Peter Bradshaw, Tim Ashley, Adrian Searle, Alison Flood and Arifa Akbar

04, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Cultural prescription: plays, films, books and more to help you start university
From Educating Rita to The Secret History, Guardian critics suggest some comfort viewing and listening to take on campus

Miriam Gillinson, Peter Bradshaw, Jenessa Williams, Justine Jordan and Adrian Searle

27, Sep, 2021 @2:43 PM

Article image
Down but not out: film, theatre, art and more to help deal with failure
From Oscar Isaac’s underperforming folk singer to The Good Place, Guardian critics offer up bittersweet culture for when success eludes you

Jessica Kiang, Kate Wyver, Phil Harrison, Alison Flood and Jonathan Jones

29, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
The friend zone: art, music, films and more about platonic love
From Michelangelo’s male muse to Sex Education’s best pals, we pick five passionate but ultimately chaste partnerships

Jonathan Jones, Rebecca Liu, Sam Jordison, Jason Okundaye and Jenessa Williams

03, Oct, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Astral peaks: music, books, art and more about the majesty of space
From beautiful celestial metaphors to a virtual simulacrum of an entire galaxy, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by the wonders of astronomy

Jonathan Jones, Jenessa Williams, Sam Jordison, Luke Holland and Jessica Kiang

14, Mar, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
True romance: film, music and art to fall in love with on Valentine’s Day
From a mind-scrambling breakup drama to a tender video game, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by matters of the heart

Jessica Kiang, Brian Logan, Keza MacDonald , Skye Sherwin and Jenessa Williams

14, Feb, 2022 @10:00 AM