Although it is an unapologetic celebration of its subject’s remarkable life, Showtime’s new documentary about Geraldine Ferraro is rimmed with sadness.
Some of this is understandable enough. Ferraro died two years ago, after battling blood cancer for more than a decade. “Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way,” which premieres Friday, is clearly a labor of love by her daughter, filmmaker Donna Zaccaro.
But more than that is the “lest we forget” tone that infuses the documentary. In 1984, former vice president and Democratic nominee Walter Mondale’s decision to name then Congresswoman Ferraro as his running mate was nothing short of revolutionary. A woman representing a major party had never run for high office before. And 30 years later, only one other woman, Sarah Palin, has been part of a major presidential ticket.
At the end of “Geraldine,” Ferraro becomes quite emotional remembering how she felt while voting for Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary. Of course, Clinton didn’t win either. As with Susan B. Anthony, who died before American women got the vote, Ferraro’s story lacks the kind of big finish we expect from such groundbreaking tales.
So even though “Geraldine” more than occasionally lapses into a daughterly valentine — the woman, apparently, had no faults whatsoever — it is still a truer tale than many celebratory documentaries.
In many ways, Ferraro embodies the modern women’s movement, which also must judge its successes in qualified ways. No female president, no ERA, no federally funded childcare program, the abortion wars still raging, and yet women do, undeniably, wield more power, influence and money than they did a generation ago.
Like many of her sister-pioneers, Ferraro’s early life was defined by loss and hardship and the subsequent determination to rise. She was 8 years old when her father died, leaving her family poor. The young Ferraro worked her way through Catholic school, college and then into law school, where she was one of two women in her graduating class.
As per an agreement with her husband, John Zaccaro, she left the work force to raise their three children and then returned, first as an assistant district attorney and then, eventually, a member of the House of Representatives.
Not surprisingly, Zaccaro has access to all manner of Washington A-listers, including the Clintons, who praise Ferraro to the skies. The portion of the documentary dedicated to the presidential campaign is the most disturbing — as a woman, Ferraro and her husband are scrutinized in a way a male candidate and his spouse would never be.
The questions about Zaccaroand Ferraro’s finances, and subsequent allegations of fraud and bribery, are skated over and around, leaving only a portrait of a couple steadfast in their support of each other.
Of Ferraro’s boundless energy, dedication to service and ability to work a crowd there can be no doubt. Though she ran for both the House and the Senate, she was never able to return to public office, serving instead as, among other things, an advisor, an ambassador, a commentator and, of course, a role model.
Though Ferraro may have paved the way, “Geraldine” reminds us how long and pitted the road can be.
‘Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way’
When: 9 p.m. Friday