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Trailblazing Black Female Entertainers in “How It Feels To Be Free” on AMERICAN MASTERS – Jan. 18 at 9 pm


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How It Feels To Be Free, New American Masters Documentary About Trailblazing Black Female Entertainers Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier, Premieres January 18 on PBS

Executive produced by 15-Time Grammy Winner Alicia Keys and produced by Yap Films

 

American Masters: How It Feels To Be Free tells the inspiring story of how six iconic African American female entertainers – Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier – challenged an entertainment industry deeply complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes, and transformed themselves and their audiences in the process. The film, premiering nationwide Monday, January 18, 2021 at 9 p.m. on PBS features interviews and archival performances with all six women, as well as original conversations with contemporary artists influenced by them, including Alicia Keys, an executive producer on the project, Halle Berry, Lena Waithe, Meagan Good, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson and other luminaries, as well as family members, including Horne’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley.

Jazz Singer Nina Simone
UNSPECIFIED – 1968: This studio portrait shows American pianist and jazz singer Nina Simone reclining on the floor circa 1968. Simone, whose deep, raspy voice made her a unique jazz figure and later helped chronicle the civil rights movement, died in her sleep on April 21, 2003 of natural causes after a long illness. She was 70. (Photo by Getty Images)

Based on the book “How It Feels To Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement” by Ruth Feldstein, the film tells the story of how these six pioneering women broke through in an entertainment industry hell-bent on keeping them out and situates their activism as precursors to contemporary movements like #TimesUp, #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter. Award-winning director Yoruba Richen (The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, POV: Promised Land, Independent Lens: The New Black) examines the impact these trailblazing entertainers had on reshaping the narrative of Black female identity in Hollywood through their art and political activism while advocating for social change. The film highlights how each woman — singer, dancer and actress Lena Horne; jazz vocalist, songwriter and actress Abbey Lincoln; Tony-winning actress, singer and model Diahann Carroll; jazz, blues and folk singer Nina Simone; actress and model Cicely Tyson; and actress Pam Grier — harnessed their celebrity to advance the civil rights movement.

Jazz singer and actress Abbey Lincoln
NEW YORK – CIRCA 1967: Jazz singer and actress Abbey Lincoln poses for a portrait circa 1967 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“These revolutionary Black women embody stories of courage, resilience and heroism. They fought for representation and economic, social and political equality through their artistry and activism,” said Michael Kantor, American Masters series executive producer. “We are proud to share the stories of how each left an indelible mark on our culture and inspired a new generation.”

Director Yoruba Richen said, “At this unprecedented time of racial reckoning and as Hollywood is reassessing its role in perpetuating racist stereotypes, now is the perfect moment to tell the stories of these path-breaking women who have inspired generations of Black female superstars—like Keys, Halle Berry, Issa Rae, Ava DuVernay and Lena Waithe—who continue to push boundaries and reshape how African American women are seen onscreen.”

Actress Pam Grier
LOS ANGELES – CIRCA 1972: Actress Pam Grier poses for a publicity photo for her movie ‘Hit Man’ circa 1972 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Executive producer Alicia Keys added, “I am proud to be a part of such a meaningful, important project. Art is the most powerful medium on the planet, and I continue to be inspired by and learn from these powerful, brave and stereotype-shattering women who leveraged their success as artists to fearlessly stand up against racism, sexism, exclusion and harassment. I honor their courage by celebrating their stories and continuing the work they started.”

Harry Gamsu, Vice President of Non-Scripted Content Acquisitions, Fremantle, said, “Throughout the course of history, the stories of Black women have been consistently overlooked and ignored. Now we are witnessing incredible stories like these being told by Black women, and we are honored to be a partner in helping bring these voices to a global audience.”

Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters set the standard for documentary film profiles, accruing widespread critical acclaim and earning 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, the American Masters website offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.