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Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the wife of the late Robert Francis Kennedy, regards herself as a private individual, uncomfortable with the art of introspection into her own life and its trials.
This discomfort, however, was not enough to prevent an audience of over 400 from obtaining the opportunity to explore the vast expanses that make up her existence. Rory Kennedy, Ethel’s daughter, allowed this access by showing a documentary focusing on her various experiences at the Palm Beach International Film Festival on April 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Ethel herself was present in the audience as well, giving the attendees there a chance to witness her presence both on and off screen. The film focused on Ethel’s political awakening, her time spent as a supportive wife to Robert Kennedy, as well as the challenges she faced raising her children in his passing. Providing perspective to these occasions were all of Rory’s brothers and sisters, interviewed by her in order to provide perspective to this production.
The movie started with recounting Ethel’s early years, up to the time that she met the man who would be her husband. One of the notable aspects mentioned in recounting the relationship between Ethel and Robert was the ease that they were able to relate to one another.
“Daddy never had to prove himself to Mommy,” Rory said.
The film continued by describing Ethel’s exposure to the political landscape that would come to define the Kennedys. Ethel’s introduction to the world of politics started in 1946, and large aspects of the movie focused on the role that Ethel played in managing the campaigns of her husband, as well as for John F. Kennedy.
A focal point mentioned in the film was that the Kennedys were staunch Democrats, a distinction that went against Ethel’s initial upbringing as a Skakel.
Although the Skakels were conservatives, that label did not concern Ethel when it came time for campaigning.
“I put that Republican aspect behind me,” Ethel said in the film.
After John F. Kennedy became president, Robert served as his attorney general. A challenging time during his tenure there was during the Civil Rights movement. Rory described in the movie how Robert had to step in to integrate the University of Alabama, after the state’s governor, George Wallace, refused to do so.
Once Robert sent his deputy attorney general to reason with Wallace, the school achieved integration, allowing Vivian Malone and James Hood to register.
The movie then recounted the times that Robert and Ethel spent travelling around the world, even detailing Ethel’s attempts to adapt to the various cultures. The film described a visit made by Ethel to Japan where she tried to speak Japanese; she admitted afterward that it was a significant challenge just rehearsing the right words.
The movie also described the reactions felt by the family to the deaths of both Robert F. Kennedy and his brother. JFK passed away in 1963, Robert in 1968. The film mentioned that after JFK’s passing, Robert became lost and introverted.
However, both deaths proved painful for Ethel; in coping with them, she was quick to credit her faith as well as her strong familial support system.
Robert F. Kennedy’s death meant that Ethel had to raise her many children on her own. She did so successfully thanks to her focus on discipline and structure. She made sure that they were all aware of the environment around them, even encouraging each of them to spend time living in various parts of the world for their own personal experiences.
Robert’s death led his family and friends to start a living memorial, which would progress into the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. This center’s goal was continuing the work started by him in making a difference for others.
At the film’s conclusion, Ethel stated that people should always “dig their roots in and always do what you can, because it will not last.” It is a lesson that has proven vital for Ethel during her lifetime and continues to be so.
Once the production finished, Rory took the time to answer some questions from the crowd. An audience member wanted to know if there were aspects to Ethel’s personality that surprised her when she found out about them.
“I didn’t know that my mom bet on horses,” Rory responded.
This aside, Rory’s project expertly showed the many facets of her mother’s life and beliefs, from her determination on the campaign trail to her mischievous acts that would get her in trouble with the law. It was a production that was a labor of love for Rory, and thanks to Palm Beach’s film festival, many individuals had the chance to view the results of those labors.
Image Courtesy of lakelandlocal