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Chisholm '72: Unbought And Unbossed
CHISHOLM 72 Unbought & Unbossed is the first historical documentary on Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and her campaign to become the Democratic Partys presidential nominee in 1972. Following Chisholm from the announcement of her candidacy in January to the Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida in July, the story is like her- fabulous, fierce, and fundamentally right on.
Chisholms fight is for inclusion, as she writes in her book The Good Fight (1973), and encompasses all Americans who agree that the institutions of this country belong to all of the people who inhabit it. Shunned by the political establishment, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm asks people of color, feminists and young voters for their support to reshape our society and take control of our destiny as we go down the Chisholm Trail in 1972. To the surprise of many, voters responded.
Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat from New York, was the first black woman elected to the United States Congress (in 1969), and then--long before the likes of Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton--the first African American of either gender to seek a major party's presidential nomination, an effort recounted in Unbought & Unbossed. Chisholm, who died in January 2005 (the 76-minute documentary was produced the previous year), undoubtedly knew that her chances of winning her party's 1972 nomination, let alone the general election, were nil; she ran, she said, to "shake up the system." But while her quest may have been hopeless (as it turned out, so was that of George McGovern, the eventual nominee, who lost to incumbent Richard Nixon in a landslide of historic proportions), it was hardly quixotic. Well-educated, articulate, and tough, Chisholm faced plenty of opposition, including from women and other black politicians; she was even physically attacked on the "Chisholm Trail," as she called her campaign ('72 was also the year that Alabama governor George Wallace, another would-be Democratic nominee, was shot and paralyzed). But she stayed the course all the way up to the Democratic convention in Miami, when she finally released her delegates to McGovern, and continued serving in the House of Representatives until 1983. Whether or not Shirley Chisholm met her goal of becoming "a catalyst for change," as she planned, is arguable. But that she had guts and the strength of her convictions is beyond debate. --Sam Graham
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The documentary also did a great job of showing various points of view about the Chisholm campaign. It would have been real easy to manipulate the film so as to villanize those who didn't support Chisholm or did support and then turned later on it. The film is unbiased and honest. The participants interviewed made decisions like any human would. The viewer is given the opportunity to decide whether he thinks it was a good or bad choice.
My only criticism is that I wish I could've heard more about the other side of the campaign. How was Shirley Chisholm when the cameras weren't rolling or when the speech was over. There is a moment when Shirley is asked about an incident where she was almost stabbed in the back. She was naturally uncomfortable with that moment and she became a bit choked up. I wish there was more of that. It would have been good for people who want to follow in Chisholm's footsteps to see the personal struggles as well as the triumphs. But then the doc. is truly about her campaign. I'll just have to read her autobiography for the other details.
All in all, the doc. was very well done. It was educational, lively, exciting, and thought provoking. The real tragedy, though, isn't her defeat but that no one has picked up where she left off. The "dirty" politics that kept Shirley's campaign down are still well and alive today.
directed by Shola Lynch
approx 76 minutes
This is a very good PBS-style documentary on Shirley Chisholm's run for the Democratic presidential nomination. The movie is a good mix of historical footage and recent interviews with people involved in the race. 1972 was a very strange year in politics in general and in the Democratic Party in particular. At one point, more than 10 people were trying to capture the nomination. Unlike today where the DLC-dominated party makes pathetic efforts to appear "centrist", the runners in '72 knew they had to work for their vote rather than count on a Republican to screw up enough for voters to shrug their way to the polls. Nobody had to work harder than Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in the US congress.
In this movie, you will see the brave Brooklyn woman who refused to step down when the majority of "leaders" in her own party wouldn't hear her out. You will see how she was abandoned by the congressional black caucus (most likely for being a woman) and by the mostly white "women's movement" (most likely for being black). These groups of course respected her efforts as a symbolic gesture within the establishment- "look how far we've come"- but they did not take her seriously as a candidate. The Black Panther Party was the only group in the so-called "progressive lobby" to rally behind her. You will see members of all the above groups give their thoughts on the election then and now, and whether they regret their decisions. You will also see some of her loyal campaign workers and the harassment that they underwent for refusing to go along with the status quo in their choice of candidate. Shirley Chisholm herself was physically attacked three times during the race, a tragedy which may explain why there haven't been many Shirley Chisholms since '72.
Like independent and third party candidates in later elections, she was blamed for "taking" votes from other wealthier candidates. In the primary, she finished 4th out of all the candidates, not bad for someone who was counted out from the start. Shirley Chishlom's own politics were very close to those of George McGovern, who went on to win the Democratic nomination and lose the 1972 election to Richard Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in American history. Her politics and campaign were not perfect, but I admire Ms. Chisholm for her efforts in '72 and afterwards. At the end of this movie, she reflects on democracy and the election process in a very personal and meaningful way. This movie is a suitable memorial to a inspirational figure in recent American history.
R.I.P. Shirley Chisholm, 1924-2005