Film & Media Studies News
Choose: “A Leader, Not a Politician”: Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way by Ingrid Ma or "Until It’s Even": The Legacy of Geraldine Ferraro by Andrea Massaro
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (right) and producer/director Donna Zaccaro introduce Zaccaro's documentary "Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way."
By Ingrid Ma, Class of 2015
On February 19, 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.
By Andrea Massaro, Class of 2015
Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way , screened at Hopkins on February 19, not only featured, but was framed by women's voices. JHU History Professor Mary Ryan opened the evening, noting that while we have indeed 'paved the way' for women in politics, we still have a long way to go. The film, she said, is a reminder of hope for that struggle. And after the screening, Ferraro friend and supporter Senator Barbara Mikulski spoke, then joined filmmaker Donna Zaccaro in a Q&A session with the audience.
Mikulski called the documentary “historic, heartwarming and moving.” As the first Democratic woman elected “in her own right,” she recounted the history of women in the House, starting with the first in 1968. She told a story of calling up Ferraro and saying, “I would like to speak to congresswoman-elect Geraldine Ferraro.” Ferraro responded that those were the best words she had heard since her husband proposed. Mikulski was also part of the “A-Team” that helped Ferraro receive the nomination for the vice presidency.
She remembered Ferraro as a “fighter… wanting to work on the bread and butter issues.” Of the cancer diagnosis and ensuing struggle, Mikulski said that Ferraro “never gave up and never gave in,” that she was “a fighter up until the very last breath.”
The impact of the 1984 race on later elections, and on 2016, was addressed by students in attendance, who raised the issue of preferential treatment based on gender and race. Zaccaro addresses Obama in the film, and acknowledged that a question remains whether Ferraro would have been tapped for the nomination had she not been a woman. Mikulski took another tack, stating that if Clinton runs again, “ageism will be the new code word for sexism.” Professor Ryan suggested there is no longer an audience for an election like that of 1984, but Mikulski disagreed, claiming that 2008 was watched worldwide.
To a question of how much longer will it be until the number of congresswomen ceases to be counted, Zaccaro responded, “I assume until it’s even.” She hopes the film may encourage more young people, presumably women, to run for office. And she hopes, as well, that future nominees won't be subject to the same treatment as Ferraro. Mikulski asserted that “men of quality will always support women of equality,” and noted that men in Congress were integral at every step of her own journey to becoming a good senator.
Personally, I found the documentary inspiring. As a woman who hopes to break into the film industry, I feel I face challenges similar to those faced by Ferraro. It wasn't a paved path for her and it isn’t for me either. As Professor Ryan said, women still have a long way to go. But pioneers like Ferraro remind me that women with ambition have done it before. She was respected and composed in the face of prejudice and doubts, an example to women in their struggle to become leaders as we move forward into the twenty-first century.
The documentary aired nationally on the Showtime network on Friday, March 21, 2014 at 9p.m. and all that week as a celebration of Women’s History Month.