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The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall 2002

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Produced by Pamela Colby and Lu Lippold
Directed by Directed by Lu Lippold
VHS, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 08/06/2004

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Linda Alkana, Department of History, California State University Long Beach

This video is aptly titled. Rather than focusing on Margaret Randall's prolific career as a writer and political activist, it emphasizes the personal and life decisions Randall made that earned her both renown and infamy. Although Margaret Randall was well known in political and literary circles, many Americans first became aware of Randall through media accounts of her attempt to reclaim American citizenship in the 1980s, after having become a Mexican citizen years earlier. The publicity around the event centered primarily on her political connections to Latin American revolutionary movements, with passing reference to her literary career. Although both the video and the contemporary press accounts document Margaret Randall's choices to live in Cuba, support North Vietnam, and write for the Nicaraguan Sandanistas, the video grounds these decisions in the strong personal and political convictions that she has expressed since childhood, and which she continues to express today.

As a child, Margaret Randall moved with her family from New York to New Mexico, in part to prevent her from being exposed to the anti-Semitism her mother had experienced. Randall identified herself as a writer from a young age: after an early marriage to get away from family discord, she moved to New York to write poetry, and she soon became part of a rich literary and artistic circle represented by the beats and the abstract expressionists. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 motivated her to look at larger political issues. At the same time she questioned traditional personal constraints: she divorced her husband and choose to have a child alone, a real taboo at the time. She next moved to Mexico, married for awhile a Mexican poet and founded a well-respected bilingual literary magazine. Her involvement with the student protest movements during the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 brought her in conflict with the Mexican government; she then fled to Cuba where she raised her children. Later, reaction to her criticism of Cuba's attitudes toward gays and lesbians made her feel less welcome in Cuba, so she accepted an invitation by the Sandanistas to write a book about Nicaraguan women. Eventually, after the deaths of several friends, and, perhaps, the wear and tear of her creative and activist life, Randall decided to return to the United States. When the INS refused her entry, her case became somewhat of a cause celebre. The issue here was less about citizenship, and more about her critical stance toward American foreign policy, which brought to her defense supporters of the First Amendment. After an appeal, Margaret Randall won her case and now resides in the United States.

The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall is a well-produced and visually appealing video, which enlarges this brief outline of Randall's professional life in four ways. First, it captures the sense of the quantity and quality of Randall's creative output by literally showing the works she wrote - a rainbow of colorful book covers, pamphlets, letters, and the like. Second, it visually locates Randall in the many places she lived from New Mexico, to Mexico, Cuba and elsewhere. Third, it employs an effective use of voice-over information and talking head interviews, and fourth, it features Randall herself, usually in public lectures. The narrator introduces the video by announcing that this "is a story of a provocative life," and then reveals that life by directing attention to Randall's ability to regularly question the status quo by challenging established authority in the many countries she lived in, and by fighting for those who suffered from that authority. Margaret Randall argues that she was considered a danger by the US government because: "I would not say I'm sorry." The video effectively demonstrate this attitude toward life with interviews of Randall's children and fellow artists and activists as the filmmakers ask questions about the effects on others of Randall’s "unapologetic life." This is not an expose of Margaret Randall's life and lovers, but neither is it merely a documentary of her intellectual and political life. The filmmakers have effectively chosen a balance between the personal and the professional to present a sympathetic, but not uncritical, portrait of a modern American activist and artist.