PBS documentary captures bravery, poise of Chisholm

First black woman elected to Congress, she ran for president

TVPreview

February 07, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Asked how she hoped to be remembered, Shirley Chisholm, the trailblazing former congresswoman who died last month at age 80, said: "I would like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts."

If Chisholm '72 - Unbought & Unbossed, a PBS documentary on her life and career that airs tonight, shows anything, it's that she was indeed one brave woman.

With the assassinations of other liberal politicians and black leaders, including Sen. Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., still fresh in American memory, Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, boldly ran for president in 1972.

At the time, America was still in the midst of a cultural upheaval: Richard Nixon headed for a landslide victory and cataclysmic fall with Watergate, anti-Vietnam War protesters in the streets, the women's movement on the march, and the Black Panther Party urging a new militancy for people of color. Director Shola Lynch vividly re-creates and uses the tumultuous era as a pulsating backdrop for the saga of Chisholm's quixotic and courageous run for the White House.

Only by understanding the times can one appreciate Chisholm's tenacity. Fellow Democrats, women and many black politicians abandoned her campaign to curry favor with George McGovern, the senator from South Dakota, who would win the Democratic nomination before getting whipped by Nixon in the general election.

Despite the defections, Chisholm never lost her poise, convictions or edge - even as her anger mounted over the treatment she received as a woman and person of color. Through the selection of vivid archival images, skillful editing, an expansive interview with Chisholm and the judicious use of expert analysis, Lynch captures both the person and the populist-progressive candidate who dared to challenge the status quo. Chisholm '72 is Black History Month programming of which PBS can be proud.

On TV

What: Chisholm '72 - Unbought & Unbossed

When: Tonight at 10

Where: MPT (Channels 22, 67)

In brief: A trailblazing black candidate for president captured in her prime.

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