April 19, 2019

Topanga Peace Alliance Presents A Single Woman


Jeanette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress. A lifelong pacifist, her first vote in the House opposed U.S. entry into World War I, and later, hers was the only vote against entering World War II. A co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she urged President Roosevelt to allow Jews fleeing Hitler to enter the United States. In her 90s, she became a hero and an inspiration to the anti-Vietnam War movement. So why don't we know who Jeanette Rankin is?

In the summer of 2005, when director Kamala Lopez saw the play, A Single Woman, in New York, she was floored by the fact that she had never heard of Jeanette Rankin, the first woman to be a U.S. Representative. “I realized that many Americans probably had not heard of her either, and I thought she was an important subject for a film.”

Jeanmarie Simpson, the writer and star of the one-woman play, had performed the role she wrote hundreds of times in small theaters and grassroots venues. Simpson had talked with many audiences equally stunned that an American icon of such significance as Rankin had slipped through the cracks of history.

When Kamala Lopez suggested that a film could potentially tell her story to millions of people, Simpson was not interested in merely filming the play, because she knew it wouldn't have the same impact as seeing it live. Lopez agreed on the need to adapt the play to this new medium.

With a miniscule budget and unlimited imagination, Lopez filmed Rankin's life story in a unique amalgam of traditional bio-pic, stage play and historic collage. Juxtaposing modern green-screen technology with classical illustrations, animated sequences, and stock footage, the film stars Simpson as Jeanette Rankin, Judd Nelson as the reporter she tells her story to, and features voiceovers by Patricia Arquette, Karen Black, Peter Coyote, Martin Sheen and others. Joni Mitchell donated the use of two of her songs in the film, “The Circle Game” and “Woodstock.”

A Single Woman begins in 1972, when Rankin was a vigorous 92-year old engaged in the anti-war movement as well as “Second-Wave Feminism.” The story then moves backward in time, through her years as the first United States Congresswoman, working as a peace lobbyist, suffragist and labor advocate. In 1916, against all odds, Rankin was elected the first woman to Congress. Brought up in Montana during the Indian War era, she was a lifelong pacifist due to the horrors she witnessed there. Her vote against President Wilson's WW I war resolution cost her the support of the suffragists who helped get her elected, because they feared her anti-war vote would cost them support. In 1920, she was the founding Vice President of the ACLU, which in 1933 urged President Roosevelt to change the immigration laws and allow Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Europe to enter the U.S.

In 1940, Rankin was reelected to Congress from Montana on a peace platform, and once again voted against a World War, this time as the lone anti-war vote in the U.S. Congress. Mobbed and vilified, she spent the rest of her life traveling to India, where she studied Gandhi's teachings and methods, and the effects of colonialism on people all over the world.

During the Vietnam War era, she enjoyed a renaissance among the anti-war movement, who celebrated her message of pacifism and human rights. She died in 1973. Many agree she was truly ahead of her time.

“Jeannette Rankin's life was a hymn to peace,” observed Congressman Dennis Kucinich, himself the recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award in 2003, “sung sweetly amidst the chaos of war.”

“I believe that Jeannette Rankin's life,” says director Kamala Lopez, “what she was able to achieve under the most inhospitable and daunting circumstances, is both an inspiration and a beacon of hope for a new generation of American citizens. It is my dream that this film be seen by millions of people, young women in particular, and sparks a groundswell of political involvement in our communities and in our government.”

The Topanga Peace Alliance screens A Single Woman as part of their Film Night Series on Friday, February 6, 2009, at Yoga Desa, 120 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, in Pinetree Circle. Director Kamela Lopez will introduce the film and participate in a questions and answer session immediately following the screening. Join in the snack potluck at 7:45—bring wine, cheese, dip, fruit or crackers. The film starts at 8 p.m. There is a requested donation of $10 but no one will be turned away. RSVP to Julie at (310) 455-9389.