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Film Description

Ellis Island Emma Goldman is a woman of great ability and of personal magnetism, and her persuasive powers are such to make her an exceedingly dangerous woman.
-- U.S. Attorney Francis Caffey, 1917

For nearly half a century, Russian emigrant Emma Goldman was the most controversial woman in America, taunting the mainstream with her fervent attacks on government, big business, and war. To the tabloids, she was "Red Emma, queen of the anarchists," but many admired Goldman for her defense of labor rights, women's emancipation, birth control, and free speech.

Emma Goldman a ninety-minute biography of the notorious lecturer, fearless writer, and merciless publisher, includes fresh perspectives on Goldman offered by historians Oz Frankel, Barry Pateman, and Robert Rosenstone; biographer Alice Wexler; novelist E. L. Doctorow; poet Andrei Codrescu; and playwrights Tony Kushner and Martin Duberman.

Goldman's life was indelibly marked by two violent acts: the attempted assassination of anti-union industrialist Henry Clay Frick by her comrade and lover Alexander Berkman (he spent 14 years in prison for the crime) and the 1901 slaying of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz, a young anarchist who claimed he had been "set on fire" by Goldman's exhortations to political assassination and martyrdom. McKinley's assassination led to widespread condemnation of Goldman and other anarchists. Fearing for her life, Goldman went underground.

In 1906, she reemerged as founder and editor of Mother Earth, an anarchist magazine devoted to politics and literature. Once again a public figure, she returned to the lecture circuit. Her talks on the struggling revolution in Russia, on the rights of workers, on civil liberties -- even on anarchism -- drew large, sympathetic crowds. For almost a decade, Goldman maintained a grueling schedule, spending nearly half of every year on the road. In one six-month period, she delivered 120 lectures in 37 cities.

An outspoken opponent of America's entry into World War I, she was arrested and imprisoned for demonstrating against the draft. In 1919 she, Berkman, and 247 others were deported to Russia, just two years after the October revolution replaced the Czarist regime with Bolshevik tyranny. After two dispiriting years, Goldman and Berkman left the Soviet Union and dedicated themselves to revealing the truth about a revolution gone wrong.

Goldman returned to the United States only once, following the publication of her autobiography, Living My Life. Unbowed by two decades of exile, she announced, "I am still an anarchist. I still advocate world revolution. I still think newspapers twist the facts." Throughout her visit, the 64-year-old activist was dogged by the FBI. Even so, she lamented, she would have returned to America if she had the chance: "One does not live in a country thirty-four years and find it easy to go. All the turmoil of body and soul, all the love and hate that come to an intense human being have come to me here."

On May 14, 1940, Emma Goldman died in Toronto. Denied entry into the United States for so many years, she was finally permitted, in death, to cross the border. She was buried in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of the Haymarket martyrs, a group of anarchists and labor activists whose mid-1880s trial and execution had sparked Goldman's activism in America.

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