History does not always recognize the most important people: the filmmakers of “My name is Pauli Murray”
Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the directors of documentary Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hope people around the world will learn more about Pauli Murray, the African-American writer and activist who has fought against racism and gender inequality.
The duo’s latest documentary ‘My Name is Pauli Murray’ tells the story of an African-American activist (1910-1985) who helped shape historic litigation around race and gender equality, years before civil rights or women’s movements gained momentum in the United States.
Murray’s work as a lawyer and writer on these issues had helped civil rights activist Thurgood Marshall fight legally against segregation.
Pauli Murray was an African-American activist, lawyer, someone who had a profound impact on civil rights and women’s movements in the United States.
And yet, many Americans don’t know who Pauli Murray is. There are complex reasons for this. It could be sexism and racism and also the fact that history doesn’t always recognize the most important and influential people, ” West told PTI in an interview.
Cohen said they were also unaware of Murray’s life and work until they worked on “RBG,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about jurist and feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
She had credited Murray’s work as the inspiration for her 1971 memoir in Reed vs. Reed, which ruled that women could not be excluded as administrators of personal estates based on their gender.
Ginsburg, who died in September 2020, had put Murray’s name on the cover of her first Supreme Court brief to recognize her groundbreaking legal essays. When they began their research, Cohen and West realized that Murray had an extraordinary life story.
It was a difficult story to tell because it was multifaceted. There are so many elements in Pauli’s life. Her activism and her legal and political work divide at so many different levels in civil rights, women’s rights, in the labor movement, in poetry, and in academics. So finding the script has always been a challenge, ”Cohen said.
But their job was a little easier when they stumbled upon a treasure trove of Murray’s writings, audio interviews, poems and legal memoirs at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Pauli made sure his descendants took all of those boxes to Harvard and that gave us access to them. So with this material we were able to tell Pauli’s story, ”West said.
With access to his personal belongings, the filmmakers were also able to learn more about Murray’s personal struggle with gender identity.
Murray was raised in the Jim Crow South by her eponymous aunt Pauline, who affectionately called her “my boy / girl”. Many researchers have retroactively classified her as transgender.
Pauli’s diaries have revealed some of the personal struggles. There were letters to the doctors, saying, “Hey, I really think I’m a man. Can you help me? Maybe there are hormones that I could get. These were private issues that Pauli never wrote about publicly.
“So we continue into the 1930s and 1940s when there really was no language for what Pauli was going through,” Cohen added.
Talleah Bridges McMahon, who produced the documentary, believes it was important to tell Murray’s story to the present generation, especially because systemic racism continues to be rampant in America.
“Pauli Murray’s story is incredibly timely. And unfortunately, decades ago, Pauli was pushing for the idea of Black Lives Matter. It’s just disappointing that we’re at a point where people have yet to push this idea forward, but it’s a time when it seems like more people are listening. And so we’re optimistic that by telling Pauli’s story, we can help keep this conversation going, ”she added. West said that through Murray’s writings they learned of many incidents of crimes against African Americans that have occurred over the past century.
We look back at the story. Not only the little-known stories of Pauli, but also the events in history that we have completely forgotten. One of them was a riot that occurred in Detroit in 1943, in which young white men and police joined in beating African Americans.
Pauli wrote an amazing poem about this event, but for us it was a revelation. I hadn’t really heard of what was going on in Detroit. So I think it’s Pauli’s story and many other stories about the history of systemic racism and violence that Pauli’s story brings out, ” she added. Now, after tackling Ginsburg and Murray’s lives, the common takeaway for Cohen and West was optimism.
“ I think there are a lot of life lessons to be learned from both RBG and Pauli Murray. Perhaps a lesson that really stuck with me is a similar feature of the relentless and relentless optimism of these two incredible American historical figures, even in the face of obstacles and barriers.
Especially true with Pauli. Almost everything that came to Pauli in life that would have stopped most ordinary mortals, Pauli just wanted to face, face, climb and push through. What an amazing way to live life, ” Cohen said.
“ My Name Is Pauli Murray ” will be released on Amazon Prime Video on October 1.
(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)