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Chisholm 72 - Unbought and Unbossed 2004

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced Shola Lynch
Directed by Shola Lynch
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
African American Studies, Political Science, Women's Studies

Date Entered: 04/27/2010

Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rochester, NY

Chisholm ’72 is an excellent study of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s audacious run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. The director uses film clips from 1972 to create a seamless narrative of events that has the added bonus of allowing Chisholm’s winsome personality full rein over the story. Interspersed between these clips are recollections by participants in the 1972 election. Interviewees include Chisholm herself, former congressman Ron Dellums, civil rights activist and journalist Susan Brownmiller, Jules Witcover a reporter well-known for his coverage of presidential campaigns, and campaign staffers and individuals inspired by Shirley Chisholm. The documentary contextualizes the 1972 campaign through revealing film footage demonstrating how the civil rights movement for African Americans and women was at the forefront of domestic concerns. Pulling the themes together, the film deftly portrays how the first black woman ever elected to Congress used her campaign as a platform to advocate for African Americans, women, and labor.

Although most viewers will begin with the knowledge that George McGovern won the Democratic nomination in the 1972, the narrative ably supplies tension, excitement and even exhilaration as we see Chisholm tackle the primaries from New Hampshire to California. Throughout 1972, Chisholm garnered a small percentage of votes and convention delegates. The path to the convention is wrought with drama, as when Chisholm, on the cusp of a breakthrough moment to receive the endorsement of either the Congressional Black Caucus or the National Organization for Women, is rejected by the civil rights leaders. By the time of the convention, Chisholm has gathered a handful of delegates whose importance is magnified by the fact that George McGovern lacks the majority needed to secure the nomination. To become the Democratic candidate McGovern will have to barter with other candidates for their delegates. Chisholm’s strategy throughout her campaign had been premised on her desire to go to the convention with sufficient delegate strength that she could insist on changes in the Democratic platform and to wrest a promise from the Democratic nominee to include more women and minorities in their administration. However, her strategy is delivered a death blow when key members of the African American community maneuver against her. Ron Dellums, an at-large or superdelegate who had promised to nominate Chisholm on the first ballot, suddenly announces that he and other unaffiliated delegates are throwing their support to McGovern. Reeling from this news, the Chisholm campaign is further rocked when Willie Brown of California makes an impassioned speech on the floor of the convention that leads the credentials committee of the convention to unseat Chisholm’s California delegates. Isolated and feeling betrayed, Chisholm graciously releases her delegates to McGovern who went on to a spectacular loss in the general election of 1972.

The film ends with the subtle message that Shirley Chisholm was abandoned in no small part due to her gender. The irony of the situation is apparent. Chisholm, the crusader for the marginalized, was rejected by those whose interest’s she had closest to her heart. Political leaders of the African American community and members of NOW backed McGovern not out of hope for the future, but out of fear that they might lose what little influence they had in the Democratic Party if they backed a losing candidate.

The direction is masterful and the film quality is high. The documentary benefits from a lack of narration because it increases the intensity of drama and allows viewers to feel as if they are eyewitnesses to the unfolding campaign. Technically the film is superb. The director makes effective use of the split screen to emphasize simultaneous events and the choice of music from the 1970s—including Chisholm’s campaign song—is excellent. In fact the only criticism that could be leveled at the film is that the running time of 77 minutes makes it too long for one viewing in a traditional class of 50 or 75 minutes.

Highly recommended for high school through adult audiences.