Review: The First Step


If you tend to watch CNN then you probably know the handsome, well-spoken Yale Law School commentator whose rich voice speaks with passion. On the night of the 2016 election he somberly intoned: “It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids: Don’t be a bully. Don’t be a bigot. It was a white lash against a changing country. It was a white lash against a black president in part. And that’s the part where the pain comes.”

“The First Step” might have been solely about a prison reform bill and addiction as a pipeline to prison. But luckily, it also captures the life of a man who believes he was born to bring change to the world – Van Jones, activist, best-selling author, prior Obama cabinet member, Emmy-winning producer, and CNN analyst.

Jones, once married to Jana Carter (daughter of Billy Carter and niece of Jimmy Carter), candidly shows us the spartan area where he lives now amidst books and bare walls. He takes pain to let us know he is still friends with his ex-wife, a supportive activist and businesswoman who also was an executive producer of this film.

Van Jones echoes what most Americans frustratingly believe. People from both parties need to work together and forget about who is perceived as getting the credit. For Jones, a languishing issue is the unfair and inhumane prison policies. To begin, Van Jones calls for the American penal system to be less racist in its sentencing. Hakeem Jeffries points out that Americans “incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world.”

Van Jones, Corey Booker, Jeffries and other progressives first want sentencing reform. But Jones points out that in order to get anything passed with bipartisan support during the then-Trump administration, they were going to have to reduce their expectations.

That becomes difficult when Jared Kushner asks Van Jones to support their version of a prison reform bill. Suddenly, the Democrat party that has been pleading for years for reform, got silent. Van Jones’ support of any conservative plan angers and alienates the progressives. The Democrats don’t want to work with their nemesis.

This sounds like the same Democrats who decried Mitch McConnell for refusing to pass anything during Obama’s term. Don’t play with the enemy!

But because his passion for prison reform is stronger than his passion for party politics, Jones forges ahead, taking a progressive support group from California to meet with people from West Virginia, a Trump stronghold. He then arranges for them to go together to tell their stories at the capitol.

I think Americans, throughout history, have championed this kind of maverick action. He cajoles, flatters and empowers each side to get something done.

“The First Step” is an inside revelation about the dynamics between what’s good for the country and the war between political parties. It’s the frustration and wisdom of Jones, who wants to get something done, that makes this film into a bit of a thriller as we watch to see if he can succeed.


Director: Brandon Kramer
Producer: Lance Kramer
Executive Producers: David Arquette, Roxanne Avent, Brad Buhr, Jana Carter, Abigail E. Disney, Daniel S. Loeb, Christina McLarty Arquette, Bryanna Sapp, Regina K. Scully, Robert F. Smith, Deon Taylor and Clara Wu Tsai.
Writer: Chris L Jenkins

Featuring: Van Jones, Jared Kushner, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Shelly Capito, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mike Lee, Mayor Karen Bass, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, Louis L. Reed, Patrisse Cullors, Charlemagne Tha God, Karen Hunter, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump and more.
Cinematography: Emily Topper
Editor: Steven Golliday
Release: Theatrically February 17, 2023. A VOD release on major platforms will follow.

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