Guest post by Kristen Muenz.
On Monday, April 22, IU Cinema will screen the 1973 film Year of the Woman. Directed by poet, activist, and journalist Sandra Hochman, this experimental documentary explores the radical interventions and interviews made by activists in the Women’s Movement during the 1972 Democratic National Convention, and features appearances by Gloria Steinem, Liz Renay, Betty Friedan, Nora Ephron, Art Buchwald, Coretta Scott King, Shirley MacLaine, and Warren Beatty, and many others. One person central to this film and the Women’s Movement at large is Florynce “Flo” Kennedy.
“Flo Kennedy is the greatest dynamo of our time and my number one muse. If it were not for her being Flo, I would not be Sandra.” – Sandra Hochman
“My public and personal lives have always been complementary; my political actions and involvements are all carried out under the flag of close personal friendships. With people like Sandra Hochman, for instance… Sandy has a great sense of humor and is one of the best street fighters I know.” — Flo Kennedy
Florynce “Flo” Kennedy, a lawyer-feminist-activist who appears in Year of the Woman, was always a woman confident in her voice. One of her first jobs was singing on the radio; she secured her admission to Columbia Law School in 1948 by threatening legal action over the discrimination she faced during the admissions process as a black woman; and all her life, she fought tirelessly for the rights of people marginalized by society, as publicly and visibly as possible. Her activism was marked by a willingness to do whatever she deemed necessary, whether that meant arguing for Billie Holiday’s estate in court or organizing public urination on Harvard’s grounds to protest the lack of women’s bathrooms on campus. Kennedy happily embraced this image, summed up beautifully in how she once described herself: “I’m just a loud-mouthed, middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I’m crazy. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I’m not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren’t like me.”
This spirit is clear seeing her in the film. From the moment she first appears on screen, she is virtually impossible to miss. Even separated from her by time and space, she is vividly, overwhelmingly present in the theater. She is bold and loud in every sense of the word: her fashion, her ideas, and perhaps most of all, again, her actual voice. (One of the most noticeable signs of time elapsing over the course of the film is through Kennedy’s voice steadily going hoarse – though, impressively, this does not stop her from yelling for even a second.)
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that Year of the Woman was not Kennedy’s only foray into moving image. From the late 1970s through the mid-1990s, Kennedy hosted The Flo Kennedy Show on a public-access television channel, Manhattan Cable Television. The program focused on interviews with a wide variety of people, but Kennedy’s focus was primarily on individuals who were members of marginalized groups and those taking action to support them. As she makes clear during her appearance in Year of the Woman, Kennedy had a tremendous concern for the unacknowledged biases displayed by major media organizations. The Flo Kennedy Show was her way of directly combating this bias by offering a platform to people frequently overlooked or outright ignored by the mainstream media. This included immigrants, members of the lesbian and gay communities, and other activists and lawyers looking to make a difference in much the same way Kennedy herself did.
The Flo Kennedy Show and Year of the Woman taken together show an incredible range of artistic expression on Kennedy’s part. She’s perfectly at home accompanying Hochman through the dream-sequence portions of Year of the Woman; you can hear the smile in her voice as she narrates the sequence. But Kennedy is equally as comfortable and dynamic hosting interviews, with an excellent sense for what questions to ask to make the most of each guest’s time on air. Much like her activism, Kennedy’s talent for performance is skillfully flexible. With every opportunity she had to address a group of people, whether it was a group of protesters or a vast and unseen audience – Kennedy shone.
Happily, The Flo Kennedy Show was especially lucky in its afterlife. Despite several changes in its producer throughout the course of its nearly two decades on air – an administrative inconsistency that can sometimes prove fatal to the full preservation of a program – The Flo Kennedy Show was well-documented and recorded. The master videotapes of the show are now a part of the Papers of Florynce Kennedy at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, well-catalogued and preserved.
Through a collaboration with the Internet Archive, 184 episodes of The Flo Kennedy Show are now available to stream on the Internet Archive’s webpage. They are free to view to anyone – a fact that surely would have made Kennedy smile.
Year of the Woman will be screened at the IU Cinema on April 22, followed by a post-screening discussion. This program is sponsored by IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, Lilly Library, the National Organization of Women, and IU Cinema.
Kristen Muenz is an archivist and proud graduate of IU Moving Image Archive’s graduate student worker cohort. She is now an audiovisual archivist at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Her professional interests include the preservation of audiovisual material of all kinds and the unwavering promotion of diversity in archival collections.