Emma Goldman: An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman

Emma Goldman is a woman of great ability and of personal
magnetism, and her persuasive powers are such to make her an
exceedingly dangerous woman.
— U.S. Attorney Francis Caffey, 1917

Those of you in the U.S. with television might want to put a
note on your calendars: ‘Emma Goldman,’ a 90-minute documentary
about the life of the anarchist orator, writer, and publisher, is
scheduled to air on PBS Monday, April 12, as part of the network’s
‘American Experience’ series. The film was written, produced and
directed by Mel Bucklin (WGBH and Nebraskans for Public

I’ve seen the film and think that it offers a fair overview of
Goldman’s life and influence, with occasional insight about her
influence. If it seems more like an outline than a full story,
that’s perhaps testament to a life fully lived.

Carefully researched and using good archival photos, the
documentary relies heavily on talking heads (twelve of fourteen of
them of the male persuasion) like playwright Tony Kushner and
novelist E. L. Doctorow, whose expertise about Emma Goldman is
rarely made clear. The film also makes limited use of reenactment,
including a brief sex scene.

The Washingtpn Post reported on March 11
that ‘suits’
at WGBH recently ‘went back and forth about how much cleavage to
show’ in the scene, after which the executive producer agreed to
cut a couple of seconds.

One question the film doesn’t ask is whether Goldman, in any of
her writing or speaking about social injustice, ever addressed the
issue of racism.

A web
site for the PBS broadcast
augments the program extensively,
with teachers’ guide, timeline, biographies (one about Goldman’s
comrade Alexander Berkman), pdf files of a full issue of Mother
magazine, and an article about U.S. government
repression that led to Goldman’s deportation in 1919.
Chris Dodge

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