On Monday night, HBO will premiere the film, All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State. This documentary, directed by filmmakers Keith Patterson and Phillip Schopper, is a fine addition to the network’s large slate of nonfiction films. Using archival footage of the late Richards, who passed away from esophageal cancer in 2006 at age 73, All About Ann tells the inspiring story of Richards, the trailblazing governor from Texas who rose from the poverty of her childhood to become one of the most beloved and revered figures in the Democratic Party.
The film focuses squarely on her political career, while still taking time to provide key backstory elements that fill in the big picture of Richards’ life. She was born in 1933 in Lakeview, Texas. Throughout her childhood, Richards was encouraged by her parents that she could be anything that she wanted to be. A champion debater in high school, Richards was happy to be a wife, a mother and school teacher. As Richards explains in the film, the era in which she came of age did not offer many opportunities for women, especially in conservative Dallas, where she and her husband, David, were raising their family.
Their lives changed when they moved to Austin in the 1970s. Surrounded by like-minded progressives, Richards and her husband became politically active. At that time, David told his wife that she should run for office. Richards warned him that campaigning and politics could ruin their marriage. Her words became prophetic when they eventually divorced.
Richards had a natural ability to bring people together, to speak from the heart (and the hip) and was dedicated to making the lives of the people of her home state better. She felt that government had a responsibility to help better lives, and she worked tirelessly to prove this point. The film is full of sound bites from speeches and TV interviews that drive home this point. Every time Richards opens her mouth, you hang on her every word.
Richards began her political career as a county commissioner for Travis County in the mid-70s. In 1982, she ran for and was elected the State Treasurer of Texas, the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas in over 50 years. It was at this time that her stature within the national Democratic Party began to rise. She campaigned and gave memorable speeches for Walter Mondale during his failed 1984 Presidential attempt and sometimes stole the spotlight from the candidate.
In 1986, she was re-elected State Treasurer. During this time, Richards revamped the states antiquated system and turned the state’s finances around. In 1988, during the Democratic Primary, Richards once again wowed the public at large with a speech that included one of her most famous barbs. When referring to then Vice President George Bush, Richards said, “Poor George can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
In 1990, Richards ran for the office of Governor in Texas. She overcame great odds, and some nasty politicking by both her Democratic rivals and then the Republican candidate to become on the second woman governor in Texas
All About Ann does an excellent job chronicling this campaign. Interviews with many of the principal players in this race describe how Richards stood up to her attacks and persevered. After winning the Governor’s office, Richards became a popular leader and helped reduce crime and gave a voice for the minorities in the state.
Four years later, she would run against George W. Bush and his Svengali –like political adviser, Karl Rove. The Republicans were ruthless in their political tactics, creating a whisper campaign questioning Richard’s sexuality and linking her to then President Bill Clinton, who was very unpopular at the time. Richards lost.
The film carries on through the end of her life, using one of her last public appearances, a speech at a LGBT fundraiser, as her final moment of glory. I must admit, by the end of this film, I was deeply moved and crying over the death of Ann Richards. She’d lived a long, productive life, yet her loss was profound. Watching President Clinton deliver a eulogy with his head bowed, containing his emotions, is a very moving image.
All About Ann is a film that the moment it concluded, I wanted to show it to my teenage daughter right away. Even though I do my best to make her believe that she can be anything that she wants, sometimes you need concrete proof that these words are real.
As this is really a movie about her political life, it touches on the personal. We learn about her childhood, the end of her marriages, and her alcoholism. However, the effects these things played on her life are not delved into as deeply as what she did in office. The film is full of frank and honest interviews, with quotes from luminaries such as Bill Clinton, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Liz Smith and Michael Dukakis (who is rather blunt about his run for the high office).
More telling are the interviews with Claire Korioth, Richards’ campaign consultant, Mary Beth Rogers, her chief of staff, and Suzanne Coleman, a longtime speechwriter. In addition to her family, these were the people who knew Richards the best. It would have been interesting to hear something from George W. Bush, but I guess that would be asking too much.
All About Ann: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State will air throughout the month of May on the HBO channels.