Segments in this Video

"The Girl Can't Help It" (03:46)


Abbey Lincoln recalls wearing Marilyn Monroe's red dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" when she starred in "The Girl Can't Help It." Lena Horne, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, and Pam Grier were pioneers who paved the way for black women in entertainment.

Political Awakening: Lena Horne (05:41)

Diahann Carroll enjoyed Greenwich Village as a multiracial cultural, artistic enclave. Gail Lumet Buckley describes her mother as a singer, activist, forerunner, and international superstar. Activist-entertainer Paul Robeson influenced Horne.

Political Awakening: Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone (03:43)

After moving to New York, Lincoln became interested in jazz vocals and black politics. Simone was a musical prodigy who reinvented herself after being rejected from music school.

Breaking Through: Horne (05:29)

Walter White and Edwin Fletcher Horne, Jr. convinced Horne she could change the image of black women in Hollywood who had been portrayed in demeaning ways. Movies amplified and circulated existing stereotypes.

Breaking Through: Horne - Continued (08:55)

The film industry was built on racist imagery. Horne signed a seven year contract, but only had two speaking parts in two MGM movies. She was relegated to singing parts so southern distributors could cut her out of films.

Breaking Through: Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson (08:05)

In 1962, Carroll testified in hearings convened by Congressman Adam Clayton Powell to address racial discrimination in the entertainment industries. She acknowledged she got more roles because of her light skin. Tyson chose her roles carefully and did not play stereotypes.

Activism: Horne and Carroll (05:01)

Black women were fundamental to the Civil Rights Movement. Horne became a member of the NAACP at age two. Carroll supported black organizations financially.

Activism: Lincoln (06:46)

Lincoln's home was a meeting place for celebrities and activists. She protested the assassination of Patrice Lumumba at the UN. She and her husband, Max Roach, recorded the "Freedom Now Suite."

Activism: Horne and Simone (08:59)

Horne and other civil rights activists met with Robert Kennedy in 1963; she became interested in SNCC. Simone's TV performance of "Mississippi Goddam" brought issues of racism into the homes of white Americans.

Activism: Carroll (08:30)

Carroll starred in "Julia," a TV show about an upper-middle class black woman, which had not yet been portrayed on American television. She and the show were criticized for being geared toward a white audience.

Activism: Tyson (04:20)

Tyson was selective about the film roles she took. Her role in "Sounder" showed love between a black man and black woman in a way that had not been shown on screen before.

Fall Out: Horne and Lincoln (04:53)

Horne was blacklisted from Hollywood after being listed in "Red Channels"; she was cleared as a communist sympathizer years later. Lincoln recorded "Straight Ahead' in 1961 and was derided for infusing it with politics.

Rebel Style (09:19)

Tyson and Lincoln were the first black entertainers to wear afros. Simone's embracement of her natural beauty was a political statement. Lincoln focused on activism and acting when she stopped getting record deals.

Rebel Style: Pam Grier (10:29)

The Black Power movement and women's liberation intersected in the late 1960s. Pam Grier was the most famous female face of the blaxploitation film genre in the 1970s.

Rebel Style: Tyson and Carroll (09:42)

Cicely Tyson did not win the Academy Award for "Sounder." Carroll played a "welfare mother" in "Claudine." She was nominated for an Academy Award in 1974 but did not win; she did not have another major role until "Dynasty" in 1984.

Rising Up (08:16)

Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" was an homage to Pam Grier. Halle Berry was the first black woman to win an Oscar for best actress.

Credits: American Masters: How It Feels to Be Free (00:58)

Credits: American Masters: How It Feels to Be Free

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How It Feels to Be Free (American Masters)

Part of the Series : American Masters
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $199.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $299.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $199.95



How It Feels to Be Free takes an unprecedented look at the intersection of African American women artists, politics and entertainment and tells the story of how six trailblazing performers—Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier— changed American culture through their films, fashion, music and politics.

Length: 114 minutes

Item#: BVL280535

Copyright date: ©2021

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

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Not available to Home Video, Dealer and Publisher customers.

Only available in USA.