The historic Castro Theatre hosted BELLA!, the 2023 closing night selection of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, oldest such festival in the world.

If you don’t know who Bella Abzug is, you weren’t alive in the 1970s, but trust me, you want to see this documentary of an extraordinary woman, beginning her career as a lawyer specializing in civil liberties, labor rights, and tenants’ rights. She was an advocate for liberal causes, including opposition to the Vietnam war. As a politician and social activist, she became one of the leaders in the women’s movement and an early supporter of gay rights. Abzug joined many high profile feminists such as Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem, together founding the National Women’s Political Caucus

The younger generation of women hopefully know they are standing on her and other brave women’s shoulders. At least that’s the hope of the older generation of women who couldn’t even get a credit card without permission from their husbands. Really. And job listings were divided into Men and Women categories. So, give those Boomers some credit!

 Bella Abzug was one of the first women feminists elected to Congress, her campaign slogan being, “This woman’s place is in the House – the House of Representatives.” 

This was the era of the failed push for the Equal Rights Amendment. Being loud and outspoken, Abzug was a radical voice that couldn’t be silenced, to the consternation of the Congressional boys club. 

She was well aware of her reputation, stating “I’ve been described as a tough and noisy woman, a prizefighter, a man-hater, you name it. They call me Battling Bella”.

The documentary contains fascinating interviews and never-before-seen audio dairies, home movies, and rare archival news footage. We hear from Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Barbra Streisand, Shirley MacLaine, and Marlo Thomas, reflecting on Abzug’s legacy as a cultural icon. 

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Emeritus, made an appearance at the theatre and received a rousing standing ovation. Politicians such as Kamala Harris and Pelosi herself have women like Bella to thank for their leadership roles.

Bella! Is highly entertaining, equal parts amusing and poignant. Known for her trademark hats, several women at the screening  donned their favorite chapeaus. 

Bella! is part of the PBS American Masters series.