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Emmy-winning Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West Share Experience Of Making Documentary.

Civil Rights Activist, lawyer, poet, and priest, Anna Pauline “Pauli" Murray lived many lives within one, breaking barriers with every step they took. There were also many firsts that they achieved. In 1940, 15 years before Rosa Parks sparked the Civil Rights movement by refusing to give up her seat for a white man in Alabama, Pauli Murray, and their friend were arrested in Virginia for breaking segregation rules. They had refused to move from the ‘whites only’ section of the bus. Throughout their life, they pushed the limits of what a Black woman or a gender non-conforming person can do by achieving extraordinary feats. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt called Murray a fire-brand and formed a close friendship after Murray wrote a series of critical letters to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later in their life, they also made history as the first woman and African-American priest at an Episcopal Church. Their work has also extended beyond their death, to as recent as 2020 when their work formed a Supreme Court ruling to end discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

The filmmaker duo opened up about their process of discovering Murray and documenting their extraordinary life. Cohen said, addressing why the activist, whose work has shaped contemporary American society, has not yet received their due. “There are a number of reasons why Pauli Murray has been left out of American history books. Certainly racism, sexism, and fear of the ones who are gender non-conforming are prime among those. Another reason, as the film points out, another reason is that Pauli was ahead of the times, that people weren’t yet ready to engage with the ideas they were raising out onto the world. And sometimes, being very forward-thinking can be a disadvantage to that thinker. Thank goodness, Pauli’s contributions were there to the society but the society was not ready. Hence it did not get the attention that was due. "

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