Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Participant, Drexler Films and Storyville Films produced the doc, directed by Oscar nominees Betsy West and Julie Cohen (“RBG”).
The film follows the overlooked history of Murray, a gender-nonconforming scholar and ordained minister who championed the rights of people of color, women and the queer community. West and Cohen were introduced to Murray by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg while making “RBG,” which was nominated for the best documentary feature Academy Award in 2019.
“We’re incredibly honored to bring Pauli Murray’s inspiring story to light at such a timely point in American history,” said Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke. “As a pioneer for race and gender equity, Pauli’s extraordinary achievements will surely strike a chord amongst our global audiences. In addition, we couldn’t be more excited to welcome the gifted filmmaking duo of Betsy West and Julie Cohen to the Amazon family.”
Talleah Bridges McMahon produced the project. Participant’s Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann and Elise Pearlstein served as executive producers with Peggy Drexler. Participant and Cinetic negotiated the deal on behalf of the filmmakers.
“Having Amazon Studios as our distribution partner is really a dream. We are so excited to work with their team — they are passionate about this film and we know we’re going to be in very capable hands,” West and Cohen said.
Weyermann, chief content officer at Participant, added they were “incredibly excited to partner with Amazon Studios in bringing ‘My Name is Pauli Murray’ to audiences around the world and shining a long-overdue spotlight on this revolutionary trailblazer.”
In her Sundance review for Variety, critic Lisa Kennedy applauded West and Cohen for using 141 boxes of raw material — including journals, photos and documents — to make visible Murray’s impact on American history.
“Fifteen years before Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat, Murray and her good friend Adelene McBean were jailed for refusing to budge on a bus in Richmond, Va. Nearly 20 years before the lunch-counter sit-ins, Murray headed protests that desegregated restaurants in Washington, D.C.,” Kennedy wrote. “Five years before Ginsburg argued her gender equality case before the Supreme Court, Murray was leveraging the 14th Amendment on behalf of women.”
Biographers and scholars familiar with Murray said she occupied a space on the gender spectrum far ahead of her time, adopting the neutral name Pauli over her given name, and openly sharing with friends and family her discomfort with the accepted binary.
Claudia Raschke served as director of photography on the project, alongside archival producer Claudia Lopez, editor Cinque Northern, illustrator Diana Ejaita and compose Jongnic “JB” Bontemps. Patricia Bell Scott was consulting producer, with co-executive producers Eve Plank and Dana DiCarlo.
Variety's Matt Donnelly contributed to this post.