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‘Liberty: Mother of Exiles’ Explores the Power of the Statue of Liberty

statue of liberty
(Photo: Pixabay)

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

A new documentary about the Statue of Liberty features appearances by several public figures and Hollywood stars such as Jessica Chastain, Monica Lewinsky, Lizzo, and Andy Cohen. Their brief cameos center on a recitation of “The New Colossus,” the poem that sits at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and includes the iconic lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

The original sonnet was written by American poet Emma Lazarus in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, and was eventually set to a plaque below the statue in 1903. The iconic statue now attracts 4 million visitors a year and is a symbol of hope and freedom for immigrants.

In a new trailer video, the poem is recited by RuPaul, Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper, Wayne Brady, Regina Spektor, Charo, Big Freedia and Courtney Love among others. The documentary is entitled Liberty: Mother of Exiles, and follows fashion icon and immigrant Diane Von Furstenburg as she explores the origins of the Statue of Liberty.

An immigrant daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Von Furstenberg has spearheaded efforts to raise money for and oversee the building of a Statue of Liberty museum on New York’s Liberty Island.

There has been recent controversy surrounding this famous poem that represents the Statue of Liberty: Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, suggested a revision to reflect limitations on immigration imposed by President Trump. In an interview with NPR in August, Cuccinelli suggested that only immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet” should be welcome in the United States.

Cuccinielli offered his own spin on Lazarus’ poem, suggesting that the famous line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” should be changed to “Give me your tired, your poor, who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

Perhaps the new documentary will serve as a rebuke against the current administration and its atmosphere of opposition towards immigration.

Liberty: Mother of Exiles is directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”). Pioneers in LGBTQ programming, Barbato and Baily have previously worked on documentaries such as Becoming Chaz, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures and The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

The full documentary will premiere on October 17 on HBO.


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