Documentary Review: My Name Is Pauli Murray (2021)

There is a saying ‘not all heroes/heroines wear capes’… well it can’t be more aptly bestowed upon Pauli Murray. Most people probably haven’t even heard of Pauli, a non-binary Black lawyer, activist and poet who influenced two former Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. Now, I didn’t get to the US until college, so I’m not sure Pauli Murray is even part of US history curriculum in high school, but she should be.

Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West directed RBG in 2018, and while doing research for Bader Ginsburg, they came across information about Pauli Murray and decided to shine a light upon the multi-hyphenate civil rights activist as their next project. I’m certainly glad they did, what a fascinating, exemplary life she led, and many still benefit from her then-radical ideas.


The film gives a good context about the issues Pauli grew up on, with black/white footage showing the racial segregation in the South, and how all her life, Pauli too struggled against the racial prejudice and racist treatments. I love that Pauli herself actually narrated parts of her own story in this film. She told us that she came from a very proud people, where she grew up with her unconventional family, there’s even scenes of an educational tour to her childhood home in Durham, North Carolina.

Her aunts and her grandparents were named Fitzgerald and they were considered prestigious amongst the Black community. Some of her family members looked white (Caucasian) that they ‘passed,’ but they actually suffered prejudices from both the white and black community against their skin color. Pauli is somewhere in the middle in terms of her skin color. She uses poetry to express herself against all the injustices, some of her poems are displayed on screen in an elegant way with piano music.


Ever since she was young, Pauli knew she was different. She always preferred pants over dresses or skirts, but Aunt Pauline made her wear a dress when she goes to church. She reveled in being a tomboy, her masculine look with short hair and slight build, she’d even gave herself names like ‘Pete’ as a way to protect herself against sexual assault in trains, etc. when she’s traveling, which she did quite a bit. She wrote in her journal that she felt as if she was ‘one of nature’s experiments’ and she even told her doctor that she’s a girl who should’ve been a boy.

The film reveals some of the prominent relationships in Pauli’s life. The first one is with Peggy Holmes, whom she met at Camp Terra, one of the women’s camps established by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The relationship didn’t last as Holmes couldn’t accept Pauli when she insists she’d be the man and Peggy be her wife. But it’s her relationship with Renee Barlow that’s most integral to Pauli’s life–they lived like married couple despite not living together. After Renee passed away, Pauli devoted her life to the church and became the Episcopal ordained minister.


One of the people featured in the film is from the Schlesinger Library, which has 135 boxes of her papers, some hadn’t been included in her published work. Pauli reportedly became depressed as she’s dealing with her attraction to other women. A few talking heads in the film are from the LGBT community and they identify with her struggle of gender identity. Apparently Pauli never wrote about her own gender struggles in her published work and rarely talk about it with her friends. Aunt Pauline was the only one she could talk to and who understand her for who she was. 


What’s also not known to the public is Pauli’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, which was borne out of her letter to FDR. She wrote to the then president as she became increasingly dismayed over his silence on civil rights issues and that he did not speak publicly against lynching. She also sent a copy to Mrs. Roosevelt who replied saying ’I understand perfectly, but great changes come slowly. The South is changing, but don’t push too fast.’ But it’s her latter letters to her that resulted in Mrs. Roosevelt becoming not just her friend, but her mother surrogate


As for her significant-but-unknown influence in the US legal system, she certainly did not get the respect and acknowledgement she deserved. The film talked about the Brown vs. Board of Education case, a major victory of the civil rights movement in 1954 that actually benefited from one of Pauli’s civil rights paper she had written a year prior. But as the film pointed out, whenever that story is told, we see a photo of Thurgood Marshall standing on the Supreme Court steps, Pauli is nowhere in view. Bader Ginsburg was interviewed talking about how she had used Pauli’s past work in the landmark Supreme Court case regarding women’s rights of Reed vs Reed, but the difference is RBG rightfully credited her.


In a relatively swift 91 minutes, I’m glad I got to know an American icon and unsung heroine who championed race and gender equity. Cohen and West’s direction paints a beautiful, moving portrait of an extraordinary life of someone who used her intellect and legal smarts for good, which still benefits many people to this day. Pauli Murray was well ahead of her time who, as one of the interviewees said was ‘tragically precluded from being a part of the institution that she wanted to be a part of and has earned the right to be so.’ As another talking head said it perfectly, one cannot teach American history without teaching Pauli Murray and she truly should have been a household name. 

4/5 stars

My Name Is Pauli Murray is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Have you seen My Name Is Pauli Murray? I’d love to hear what you think!

September 2021 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

september watches

HAPPY FALL, everyone! I’ve actually put out my Fall floral decór with pumpkins on my front porch and swapped out my door wreath with sunflowers, pinecones, etc. Autumn is my favorite season here in Minnesota and we get such gorgeous Fall foliage this time of year, so we’re heading out to a state park up north to marvel at the changing Fall colors!

Ok, now on to the movie report… 


I actually didn’t get to see as many new movies this past month, not sure why… but hey, I did get to see No Time To Die at least a week earlier than most, so yay!

Minari (2020)


I saw this on the plane back from LA earlier this month and really enjoyed it. I love the performances, esp. Steven Yeun and Yuh-Jung Youn who won an Oscar for her role. Now, I honestly am not sure if this film is THAT good that it’s Oscar-worthy though, but given how few Asian-centric films are recognized, I can’t really complain that it was nominated.

Here Today (2021)


Crystal is a wonderful performer, and he + Haddish definitely make for a winning comedic pairing, so I’m glad I saw this one.

Full Review

Shang-Chi (2021)


It’s massively entertaining with dazzling action sequences + fight choreography. Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh automatically add immense gravitas just by being present in this film and I’m happy to say I’m impressed with Simu Liu as an action hero.

Full Review

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye (2021)


Despite the extensive amount of Jessica Chastain‘s screen time, in the end it’s a pretty thin character study, as I don’t think I know that much more about Tammy Faye than I did before I saw the film.

Full Review

Being James Bond


A brief 46-min retrospective doc where Daniel Craig candidly reflects on his 15-year tenure as James Bond. It includes never-before-seen archival footage spanning from Casino Royale (2006) to No Time To Die (2021), though given its brevity, it’s not exactly a deep dive into Craig’s Bond career as I had hoped it would be.

The Guilty (Danish film)


Nordic thrillers are quite popular in Hollywood, hence the countless remakes from Danish productions, but star power and bigger budget don’t always translate to better films. I’m very curious how the Netflix film will fare compared to this one.

Full Review

My Name is Pauli Murray (doc)*


Review upcoming…

Honest Thief


My hubby and I actually enjoy Liam Neeson action movies! Thankfully there are TONS of them, ahah. Yes there’s a certain formula to them but some of the plots are actually amusingly-clever, and Neeson is a reliable action star. I might do a Neeson action series review compilation one of these days, but I still need to watch Run All Night, A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Commuter and The Marksman.

No Time To Die


Review coming this weekend… in the meantime, I invite you to check out two Bond related posts from last week: Top 15 Daniel Craig’s JAMES BOND Moments and Ranking Daniel Craig’s Bond Movies.

Good On Paper*


I haven’t had much luck with Netflix’s rom-com but I was curious to check this one out after seeing the trailer. Firstly, I knew the smiling-too-much guy is a fraud right away, so it’s just laughable that the protagonist didn’t pick up on it for weeks! In any case, I thought Iliza Shlesinger (who wrote and starred in it) is pretty funny… oh and did Margaret Cho lose a lot of weight recently? In any case, it was entertaining enough… glad it’s only 92 min long so it never overstayed its welcome.

Food Club* (Danish film)


I wanted to see a female-directed film on the last day of the month (and I’m still one movie short for the month)

52 films by womenMovies indicated with * (asterisk) indicates those directed by women. I managed to only three films directed by women in September, gotta do better this month! I am hopeful I can actually complete the 52 Films By Women challenge by the end of the year.


Apple TV+ FOUNDATION (2021)


I will review this once the series wrapped, but so far I enjoyed the first two episodes and can’t wait to see more! Check out my in-depth post on the sci-fi series here, based on the highly-influential Isaac Asimov’s books that apparently inspired Star Wars, Dune, etc.

Marvel’s WHAT IF? (2021)


Though I’m not always fond of every single episode (can’t even think of my fave episode on the top of my head), I do marvel at the spectacular animation of this series. The visuals are truly a marvel, I even think some of the animated characters are better looking than the actors playing them (*wink* Hawkeye *wink*). I also LOVE Jeffrey Wright‘s voice as The Watcher narrating the series and his character finally getting some action in the latest episode.

Ted Lasso – season 2 (2021)


I love the Rebecca-centric episodes and the latest, No Weddings and A Funeral is such a hoot!! There’s definitely shades of Richard Curtis’ rom-coms in there, and the 80s kid in me rejoice hearing Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up!


King Kong (2005) | Robocop (1987) | Octopussy (1983) | La La Land (2016)  | Pacific Rim (2013) | Skyfall (2012)

Some fun rewatches this month! I watched King Kong in the hotel after we went to Universal Studios Hollywood. I actually like that Peter Jackson-directed movie a lot even though it didn’t do well at the box office. Coming back from L.A. where we visited the Griffith Observatory, I was in the mood to see a movie with great scenery of the city of Angels, hence La La Land. Pacific Rim is one of those movies I’d watch for no reason as it’s just so fun and entertaining. Seeing Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam together makes me wish they’d both be cast in a Bond movie!

As for Robocop, we actually rewatched this on the big screen as my hubby’s colleague actually has this monthly movie night where he rented a theatre showing older classics. It’s still way better than the remake. 

Lastly, I rewatched two Bond movies in anticipation of No Time To Die of course. I had rewatched The Living Daylights in August, and was hoping to catch Licence To Kill this past month but didn’t get to it so I’ll rewatch it soon!


It’s another tie this month… I simply cannot pick one over the other as both are entertaining and meaningful to me.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

No Time To Die

Well, what did you watch last month and what’s YOUR favorite film(s) you saw in SEPTEMBER?