Storming Caesars Palace

Activist Ruby Duncan leads a grassroots movement of mothers who challenged Presidents, the Vegas Mob, and everyday Americans to rethink their notions of the “Welfare Queen.”

woman and child standing outside blue car
Funding Initiative
Diversity Development Fund
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2022 BlackStar Film Festival-Shine Award
  • filmmaker Hazel Gurland-Pooler
    Producer/Director

    Hazel Gurland-Pooler

    Hazel Gurland-Pooler is a Colombian-born, NYC-based director/producer and documentary filmmaker. She directed 10 episodes of PBS’s, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and co-produced the 6-hour The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, also with Gates Jr., which won Emmy, Peabody, duPont-Columbia, and NAACP Image awards.

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    The Film

    What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas — until now. Storming Caesars Palace chronicles the life of Ruby Duncan, a cotton-picker who fights the welfare system and ends up a White House advisor. It all begins when she loses her job due to a workplace accident and goes on welfare, where she discovers firsthand the stigma and harassment by an overzealous welfare department. With Mary Wesley and Alversa Beals, Ruby creates a welfare rights group to fight for an adequate income, dignity, and justice. They, along with low-income mothers across the country, form the National Welfare Rights Organization with the support of George Wiley and Frances Fox Piven. Together they introduce a Universal Basic Income campaign in 1969, which, with feminist Gloria Steinem at their side, becomes part of the Democratic platform in 1972. When the Las Vegas mothers are slashed from the welfare rolls, they launch “Operation Nevada,” and lead an army 1,500 strong—including Ralph Abernathy and Jane Fonda—down the Strip into Caesars Palace, shutting it down. Later, Ruby founds Operation Life, one of the first women-led community corporations in the nation bringing medical services and meaningful jobs to her Westside neighborhood. From a boisterous protestor to a strategic organizer, Ruby wants lasting change, and President Carter appoints her to his Council on Economic Opportunity. Based on a groundbreaking book, Storming Caesars Palace spotlights an unsung leader and movement whose stand for America’s principles of justice, inclusion, and opportunity for all challenged notions of the “welfare queen” and continues to shape the calls for economic justice that ring today.

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