CFS: Chisholm documentary timely

Daniel Dougherty

Watching Barack Obama’s presidential campaign over the past year was powerful for many reasons, particularly the way his victory symbolized progress toward eliminating racial barriers.

However, Obama was not the first black candidate to run for president: In the 1972 primary season, political heavyweights Democratic Senators George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey found themselves squaring off in a nationally televised debate against Shirley Chisholm, a little-known black congresswoman from Brooklyn.

The story of her campaign is detailed in the 2004 documentary “Shirley Chisholm, ’72: Unbought and Unbossed.”

In 1968, Chisholm, a former nursery school teacher, became the first black woman elected to Congress, representing New York’s 12th Congressional district.

She hired an all-female staff and worked for civil rights, women’s rights, aiding the poor and ending the Vietnam War.

In 1972, she became one of the first females and the first African American to run for president as a member of a major political party. (Sen. Margaret Chase Smith had campaigned for the Republican Party’s nomination in 1964.)

From the time she announced her candidacy, Chisholm was ridiculed for thinking she had a chance to win the nomination.

To her detractors she said, “If you can’t support me or you can’t endorse me, then get out of my way.”

She was the first candidate ever endorsed by the National Organization of Women.

She believed that “women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes.”

To the surprise of many, Chisholm began racking up delegates, assuring her a voice at the Democratic convention (which she used to bring attention to issues she believed were most important).

McGovern won the Democratic nomination but ended up losing the race in a landslide to incumbent Richard Nixon.

As this documentary reveals, even though Chisholm’s bid for the presidency failed, it forever shattered a glass ceiling for black women and her message of self-empowerment remains relevant today.

Shola Lynch, the director of “Unbought and Unbossed,” aimed for what she calls “historical cinema verité”: immersing viewers in the early ’70s through the use of archival footage showcasing Chisholm’s fiery activism and flashy appearance and the music of the period.

Although Chisholm herself was reluctant to participate in the documentary at first, Lynch ultimately won her over, resulting in a moving personal interview conducted shortly before Chisholm’s death in 2002.

The third offering in the spring Cultural Film & Lecture Series, “Women Take the Camera,” “Unbought and Unbossed” will be shown four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday at 7 pm; Sunday at 3:30 and 7 pm, and Monday, at 7 p.m.

Admission is free for students with ID and $5 for all others. Guest speaker Frank Pryor will be present at the Monday evening screening to introduce the film and then lead a discussion afterward.