December 2023 / January 2024FEATURE

Bella! This Woman’s Place is in the House, A Review

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By Barbara Birenbaum

I had the enlightening privilege of screening Bella! This Woman’s Place is in the House at KBPS. Prompted by a suggestion from his mother, writer and director Jeff Lieberman created the documentary film because, surprisingly, it hadn’t been done yet. This very human story needs to be told, especially to the youth of American society.

It’s the story of the remarkable powerhouse that was Bella Abzug. Viewers learn about the inspiration of her “speak up movement”, as her civic voice raised up the most influential women in the decades of the latter half of the 20th century. As the original incarnation of the now famous “Neverthelss, she persisted”, she broke glass ceilings, showed the political patriarchy what she was about and paved the legislative way for Women’s equity, especially regarding credit cards in their own name, civil rights, child care, minority and LGBTQ+ protections. Her approach to politics upended the status quo in Washington and provided a golden pathway for generations of women to lead with conviction and heart.

The film brings her career to life through archival footage and new interviews. The list of prominent activists who admired and supported her is impressive. Audiences are are treated to the passionate voices of superstars like Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Marlo Thomas, Shirley Maclaine, Gloria Steinem, and political figures who walked in her footsteps like Maxine Waters, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi as well as her staff. Representatives of the marginalized groups who were her dearest constituants speak with endearing messages of gratitude and inspiration. Hearing and seeing them speak adds an admirable dimension to her life story.

Her story began challenging the patriarchy by applying and succeeding in earning her law degree from Harvard. She started her own law office, joining forced with a women’s activist group, Women Strike for Peace, who changed laws relating to use of nuclear power. With her own brand of ambition, she then launched a campaign for Congress, representing a large district of lower Manhattan. Recognizing her potential, “Broadway performers lent support, most notably Barbra Streisand, who recalls how Bella easily connected with The Lower East Side’s elderly Jewish voters”. Bella’s faith connections began in her childhood synagogue where she proudly learned Hebrew prayers from her Orthodox grandfather. “When Bella’s father died suddenly, she was intent on publicly reciting the traditional mourner’s prayer. The elders would not allow it. That did not stop Bella…”

Bella Abzug showed the country how it could be done, despite efforts silence her driving voice. To make it difficult for her to win again, the district lines were redrawn. Nevertheless, she served three terms in the House. With her signature hats and no nonsense language, she spoke candidly and loudly to advocate for and protect the most vulnerable members of society. Even as the president and FBI attempted to silence her, she persisted, trailblazing a blueprint for feminist leadership in American government.

This award-winning documentary premiers in San Diego on February 8, 2024. Read more about the film at https://bella1970.com/

L'Chaim

Angry at my Sisters

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