A Ballerina’s Tale

A Ballerina’s Tale

February 08, 2016


Nelson George

Misty Copeland is poised to make history as the first African American principal dancer of a major ballet company.


About the Documentary

Few dancers reach the elite level of ballet; of that already small number only a fraction are black women. Misty Copeland shattered those barriers in 2015, making history as the first African American principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT).

A Ballerina’s Tale intimately documents Copeland’s historic rise while shining a light on the absence of women of color at major ballet companies. The film also explores how ballet’s emphasis on waifish bodies impacts the health of ballerinas while sending a negative message to young fans.

Born in Kansas City, and raised in San Pedro, California, Misty Copeland did not begin studying ballet until the relatively late age of 13. In 2000, she joined ABT’s Studio Company, and the following year became a member of ABT’s Corps de Ballet. She continued to rise within the company, becoming a soloist in August 2007. In 2013, she was offered the lead role in Igor Stravinsky’s challenging Firebird, to be performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, a major coup for a soloist.

The night of the Firebird performance Misty danced beautifully, but later revealed she’d been performing in great pain. Soon she would learn that her left shin suffered six fractures and required corrective surgery. Many doubted she would ever dance again. A Ballerina’s Tale follows Misty’s journey, from the triumph of Firebird to the injury and painful road back to the American Ballet Theatre stage, and emergence as a star in the process.

The Filmmakers

Nelson George

Nelson George is an author, filmmaker, television producer, and critic with a long career in analyzing and presenting the diverse elements of African American culture. His directorial debut, the critically-acclaimed HBO movie Life Support, stars Queen Latifah, and looks at the effects of HIV on a troubled black family in his native Brooklyn. He's published numerous non-fiction books on black music history as well as a series of novels using the music world as a backdrop, including The Lost Treasures of R&B. Since 2013, George has completed VH1’s rock doc Finding the Funk, Showtime’s Brooklyn Boheme, ESPN’s The Announcement, and All Hail the Beat, a short film for the Focus Forward campaign.

Full Credits


  • African American Film Critics Association

    Best Documentary

Learn more about the documentary

Join the Discussion

Are you a ballet aficionado? Did Misty Copeland make you more interested in ballet than you were before? Did you participate in a performing art as a child? Did you feel pressure to succeed? Who are some of your other favorite trailblazers in the arts?


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