‘Liberty: Mother of Exiles’ Explores Movement to Build Statue of Liberty Museum

Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg earned fame in the 1970s, when she invented the wrap dress, a universally flattering garment that became synonymous with chic, sophisticated style. She remains one of the most influential designers working today and is a certified business tycoon with a net worth of more than $1 billion. But her creative passions extend far beyond the glamour of the runway. In a new documentary streaming now on HBO, von Furstenberg is shown fiercely advocating for the construction of a Statue of Liberty museum on New York’s Liberty Island.

Liberty: Mother of Exiles opens with von Furstenberg, the self-anointed “godmother” of the statue, announcing her ambitious fundraising campaign for a museum to enrich the historical legacy of ‘Lady Liberty’ (as the Statue of Liberty is sometimes fondly referred) as a beacon of hope for immigrants arriving to the United States. We soon realize her commitment to constructing a museum is far more than a philanthropic endeavor; rather, it is a personal mission based on von Furstenberg’s own experience as an immigrant from Belgium. Throughout the film she delves deep into the history of the statue, even traveling to Paris to learn about its French designer Frederic Auguste Barholdi, who was commissioned to create the monument for the U.S. as a gift that would strengthen relations between the two nations. [See Liberty: Mother of Exiles by Beandrea July, The Hollywood Reporter, 11.Oct.2019.]

The true heart of Liberty: Mother of Exiles is revealed when von Furstenberg returns to New York, where the statue was dedicated on Liberty Island in 1886. Here she interacts with a wide array of people who have been directly impacted by the statute, including students touring its interior, immigrants who work on Liberty Island, and construction workers who are erecting the new museum. Her ability to engage with diverse demographics and not just the wealthy donors for her project is disarming, and makes her proclamation that “the Statue of Liberty has always been a dream for immigrants” seem sincere. Von Furstenberg also reveals in the film that she is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and that, when she immigrated to New York in her mid 20s, it was to realize her own dream of becoming a fashion designer.

Since the film’s completion, von Furstenberg’s mission has achieved success – the Statue of Liberty Museum opened on Liberty Island on May 2019 and became a popular tourist attraction virtually overnight. But despite the generally optimistic tone of the documentary, directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato do not allow the audience to become complacent. The final stretch of Liberty: Mother of Exiles focuses on the Trump Administration’s calculated attacks on immigrants. By including this grim reminder of current policies towards immigrants, Bailey explained in a recent interview with Newsweek, he and Barbato “… hope people can see that … they can open their hearts to the huddled masses and wretched refuse,” citing the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus,” which is etched on the statue’s pedestal. “We need open arms, not building walls.” [See HBO’s ‘Liberty: Mother of Exiles’ Proves Diane Von Fürstenberg is the Godmother of the Statue of Liberty by H. Alan Scott, Newsweek, 17.Oct.2019.]


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