Celebrating the Power of Women: Filmmaker Shola Lynch on Shirley Chisholm’s Unlikely Candidacy for President

As part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, MoFo hosted a special presentation with award-winning documentary filmmaker Shola Lynch. San Francisco Litigation Partner Christin Hill introduced Shola, who is best known for the feature documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, a first-hand account of college professor turned FBI fugitive Angela Davis, and the Peabody Award winning documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed, which follows Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s historic run for president in 1972.

Shola kicked off the presentation by speaking about the significance of Shirley Chisholm’s presidential run and the systemic changes, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed her to become the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and later add her name to the 1972 presidential ballot. Shola’s 2004 film Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed takes a closer look at Shirley Chisholm’s life and career, from what drove her to politics to becoming the first woman and first African American of any gender to mount a credible campaign for a major party’s presidential nomination.

“While her run for president was considered a joke or publicity stunt, Shirley Chisholm had a point to make about America’s assumptions about who and what a leader looked like,” noted Shola. The mistake that most people made was underestimating her strategy to run her campaign focused on gaining delegates from primary states. According to Chisholm, “You can go to the convention, you can yell ‘Woman power, here I come,’ you can yell ‘Black power, here I come,’ ‘White power,’ any kind of thing; the only thing those hard-nosed politicians in Washington are going to understand at the convention is how many delegates you got.”

Shola also spoke about her own calling to become a filmmaker and her responsibility to tell stories like Chisholm’s. She mentioned, “because she [Chisholm] was expected to lose, her campaign had been dismissed by history . . . The documentary gave her a platform to tell her version of events, her story, through her eyes, her lens.”

Shola Lynch is the Curator for Film, Moving Image, and Recorded Sound at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In 2013, she joined the Sundance Institute’s prestigious Women’s Filmmaker Initiative, one of only five women to be selected annually for this honor. In 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences inducted her as a member of the documentary branch. She was also recently awarded a prestigious Creative Capital Award for her next project, a narrative film. Read more about Shola’s work at sholalynch.com.

View more from this presentation in the clips below: