This past Wednesday, the Film and Media Studies Program hosted a screening of Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way. Directed and produced by Ferraro’s own daughter, Donna Zaccaro, the documentary offers an intimate insight into the life and legacy of the first woman ever to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate. Zaccaro was among the screening’s attendees, along with Maryland senator, Barbara Mikulski, who appears in the documentary and was a close friend of Ferraro. Mikulski, a trailblazer in her own right, being the first independent Democratic woman to enter office, joined Zaccaro in a Q&A session following the screening.
The film paints a more complete and humanizing portrait of a figure that was both idolized and misrepresented by the public and by the media. Guided by interviews of her family and childhood friends, by political affiliates and even adversaries, and by Geraldine Ferraro, herself, the documentary uncovers sides of Ferraro that stayed out of the limelight of fame and popularity.
Ferraro, who points to her father’s early and untimely death as the impetus for her self-motivation and diligence, grew from a difficult and underprivileged childhood in New York. Her scrappy and hard-working character earned her a scholarship and success at Marymount College. She continued her academic career at Fordham Law School, where she graduated in the top ten percent of her class. After joining the D.A. office in Queens County, she went on to make a name for herself as a hardy and determined prosecutor. Ferraro’s entrance into the political scene came at a time where the female representation in Washington consisted of sixteen women in the House and only one in the Senate. I think it’s difficult for our progressive minds to fully understand the set of expectations and limitations she faced. Regardless, she quickly navigated the ranks of the House as the representative for New York, proving herself a smart and formidable presence. Before long, she caught the attention of many other leaders, including her future running mate, Walter Mondale.
“You can do whatever you want to do. You can be whoever you want to be,” says Ferraro about her personal beliefs. Coming from anyone else, this statement would sound impractical, absurd, and delusional, but when it came out of Ferraro’s mouth, I found myself sincerely believing it. The intrigue of her story lies in the realistic realization of the American Dream. The vice-presidential nomination in 1984 did not simply fall into her lap, and it wasn’t simply symbolic. Her achievement was undeniably hard-won and wholly well-deserved.
Ferraro took a fresh approach to feminism—one that traded confrontation for savvy and charisma. In effect, she reinvigorated the agency in women across America. It’s for this reason Nancy Pelosi calls her “a leader, not a politician.”
By the end of the documentary I was stunned to feel tears forming at the corners of my eyes. When the credits began rolling everyone in the audience held their applause. It was almost as if we all collectively took a moment a silence to honor this truly magnificent figure in history. Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way is a powerful and moving tribute to a woman whose impact will continue to be felt in generations to come.