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My Name Is Pauli Murray - What We Know So Far

One of the most powerful elements of documentary films is the genre's ability to pay homage to influential historical figures who didn't always get the widespread praise they deserved earlier in life. That's definitely a major selling point of Betsy West and Julie Cohen's 2021 film "My Name Is Pauli Murray," which follows the life and work of activist and lawyer Pauli Murray.

Murray was a non-binary Black lawyer, poet, and activist who played a huge role in arguing the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment (which forbade discrimination on the basis of sex). They also served as a major inspiration for Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"My Name Is Pauli Murray" delves deeper into Murray's own life, drawing from archival footage and Murray's own work to tell this undersung figure's story. Ahead of the film's release date, here's what to know about it, including other interviewees and the story behind Murray.

What is the release date for My Name Is Pauli Murray?

"My Name is Pauli Murray" premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 31, 2021. Apart from the nature of its subject, the film also generated buzz because it was directed by Cohen and West, who received a Best Documentary Feature Oscar nomination for their 2018 documentary "RBG."

In taking on a documentary about Pauli Murray, the two directors are continuing their trend of making films about underrated American figures who played a big role in advancing gender equality throughout the country.

The following February, Amazon Studio acquired distribution rights to the film, and it later screened at the American Film Institute's AFI Docs film festival in June 2021. It's currently set to have a limited theatrical release on September 17, before debuting on digital streaming on Amazon Prime Video on October 1. The Participant, Drexler, and Storyville Films movie is also produced by Talleah Bridges McMahon.

Who is in the cast of My Name Is Pauli Murray?

The late Murray is obviously the main focus of "My Name Is Pauli Murray." Because Murray passed away in 1985, viewers largely get to know them through archival footage and interviews with historians, lawyers, and activists. These include former Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice coordinator Dolores Chandler, lawyer Chase Strangio, writer Raquel Willis, historian Rosalind Rosenberg, and cultural critic Brittney Cooper.

"We've been taught to believe people like us exist," Chandler says in the film. "So when I came to know and learn about Pauli Murray, I was so amazed and wanted to hold it so tightly. And also, I was angry. I was angry that I felt in some ways that I had been robbed of my history."

Willis also elaborates on Murray's gender identity in the documentary, saying, "Being Black and queer myself, I refer to Pauli as 'they' or simply 'Pauli,' to acknowledge their expansive gender experience."

What is the story of My Name Is Pauli Murray?

"My Name Is Pauli Murray" tells the sweeping true story of Murray's life and work. In 1940, Murray and then-girlfriend Adelene McBean were arrested for refusing to move from the white section of their bus, 15 years before the Rosa Parks incident. They became the only woman admitted to Howard University Law School, coined the term "Jane Crow" to articulate the effects of discrimination on Black women, and laid the groundwork for both the equal protection clause and the NAACP's "Brown v. Board of Education" argument.

Murray also became the first African-American woman to be ordained as an Episcopalian priest, and they were later named to sainthood. They also had regular correspondence with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

The film also utilizes trans historians and activists to unpack Murray's gender identity and how it informed their feminist policies.

To get the full story of Murray's life, check out "My Name Is Pauli Murray" when it hits theaters or debuts on Amazon Prime.