& How to Watch Them:
Ethel (2012): An inside view of the life of Ethel Kennedy, as told by 7 of her children. Come for the Kennedy insights, stay for the ponies and dogs roaming the yard (Ethel loves animals!).
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007): In interviews with victims, victimizers and witnesses, the story of prisoners abused by American soldiers in the Iraqi prison comes to life. Sounds grim, but it’s a fascinating examination of how average Americans got to the point of committing notorious atrocities.
Girlhood (2003): Meet Shanae and Megan—young girls who ended up in Waxter Juvenile Facility, one for murder and the other for a box cutter attack on another child. The film follows the pair through ups and downs for 3 years while they try to understand what they’ve done, what’s been done to them, and what the future may hold for them.
Street Fight (2005): A ringside seat on the contact sport that was Newark’s mayoral election in 2002. Cory Booker challenged long-time Mayor Sharpe James, who charged that the African-American Rhodes Scholar was not “really black.” The campaign quickly devolved into dirty tricks, intimidation and threats—including against the film crew!
Dear Rory Kennedy,
I’ve been a fan of yours since before you were born, and that is NOT creepy. I watched with millions of other Americans as your pregnant (with you!) mother, Ethel Kennedy, walked behind the coffin of your father, Robert Kennedy. As a kid from another crazy big Irish Catholic family, I identified with you and probably even prayed for you, that being my default response to crisis in those days.
Picture my excitement, then, all those years later, when I saw that HBO was showing “Ethel,” a documentary about your mother produced and directed by you! Always fascinated by the Kennedy mystique, with its glamour, ambition, privilege and tragedy, I couldn’t wait to get the inside scoop.
And you delivered! You revealed your mother to be a gutsy woman, a devoted and fun-loving wife and mother who was always up for mischief. But there was something else, too. When your mother talked about you coming into the world just months after your father was assassinated, it was like the sun came out from behind the clouds. She lit up with the biggest smile. In that moment, you showed her as Everymom, and as a mother myself, I once again identified with a Kennedy.
“Ethel” was my gateway drug to your other documentaries. And it turns out there are A LOT of them. In 30 documentaries, you gave a voice to victims of human rights abuses, domestic violence, drug addiction, and poverty. Like Iraqi prisoners abused by American GIs in “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.” Girls in a detention facility for Maryland’s most violent offenders in “Girlhood.” And “Street Fight,” about Cory Booker’s scrappy campaign for mayor of Newark.
You showed yourself as not just an incredibly prolific, award-winning filmmaker, but as an activist for social justice and human rights. I would say a prayer of thanks, but I stopped doing that in 1972. So instead I’ll just say, thank you Rory Kennedy!