Her Socialist Smile

John Gianvito
93 minutes


Though her life generated voluminous literature, most people ignore the fact that iconic deaf-blind author Helen Keller (1880–1968) was one of the most passionate socialist advocates of her time. Continuing his work of patient and insightful political filmmaking, director John Gianvito (PROFIT MOTIVE AND THE WHISPERING WIND) resurrects Keller's radical views, which have been largely suppressed or sanitized over the years. In HER SOCIALIST SMILE, he researches how, beginning in her early 30s, the pioneer leftist thinker fervently and eloquently spoke out on behalf of many progressive causes, from the rights of women and the disabled, to international socialism and world peace. Gianvito combines onscreen text taken from her most memorable public appearances, recorded voiceover by politically engaged poet Carolyn Forché, and quiet images of nature, creating another unique blend of activism, historical analysis and poetry. Reminding us that leftist struggles are inseparable from disability advocacy, Keller's words remain remarkably pertinent today.


“One of the most striking features of Her Socialist Smile is the prominence given to Keller’s own writings, exhibited in simple white letters against a black background (and interpreted by the voice of poet Carolyn Forché). Just as striking… Gianvito delves into artistic territory largely unfamiliar to the conventional biopic.” – Jacobin Magazine

“A fascinating and challenging exploration of Keller’s political thought…. Helen Keller is one of the closest things the United States has to a secular saint… She lived a long life, dying in 1968 at the age of 87. And she spent much of that life espousing socialism… Much of Keller’s thought is today echoed in progressive circles that are now more than peripheral to the mainstream, and it’s fascinating to consider.” 
 The New York Times