Betsy West & Julie Cohen explain why Pauli Murray is the most important queer you’ve never heard of

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2/13/21

How could anyone ever top Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Documentary filmmakers Betsy West & Julie Cohen faced that same question upon completing their Oscar-nominated film RBG. Fortunately, the late, great justice had already given them an idea. That suggestion grew into the newest film by the pair, My Name is Pauli Murray. The movie debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and is currently looking for distribution. My Name is Pauli Murray tells the story of the titular writer. Raised as an orphan, Murray grew up in Baltimore and fought to educate herself as a woman of color in the 1930s. By the time she was in her mid-20s, Murray had earned a reputation as a stellar writer and civil rights activist. After earning a law degree from Howard University (where she was the only woman studying law), she went on to an esteemed legal career focusing on issues of Civil Rights for women and people of color. Her theories had a direct influence on later Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and would help shape the work of Civil Rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Betty Friedan. Throughout her life, Murray also maintained relationships with women, and embraced a more masculine, genderqueer identity. So how could so-unique and influential a figure go unnoticed for so long? West & Cohen work to answer that question in My Name is Pauli Murray, and rectify the situation: Murray is an unsung queer titan. We scored some time to chat with West and Cohen about Murray, the film, and the hidden legacy of one of the United States’ greatest legal minds during the Sundance Film Festival. My Name is Pauli Murray is currently seeking distribution.

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