Preview | Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart - About the Film

On March 11, 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway and changed the face of American theater forever. As the first-ever black woman to author a play performed on Broadway, she did not shy away from richly drawn characters and unprecedented subject matter. The play attracted record crowds and earned the coveted top prize from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. While the play is seen as a groundbreaking work of art, the timely story of Hansberry’s life is far less known.

Launching American Masters Season 32, the new documentary American Masters – Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material. The film explores the influences that shaped Hansberry’s childhood, future art and activism. The documentary premieres nationwide Friday, January 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will be available to stream the following day via and PBS apps. Filmmaker and Peabody Award-winner Tracy Heather Strain (Unnatural Causes, I’ll Make Me a World, American Experience: Building the Alaska Highway) crafts the story of one woman who believed, like many of her generation, that words could change society. Family, friends and colleagues, including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, her sister Mamie Hansberry, Lloyd Richards, Amiri Baraka and Louis Gossett, Jr., share their personal memories of Hansberry, offering an intimate look at a woman who was, as Poitier says in the film, “reaching into the essence of who we were, who we are, and where we came from.”

Narrated by acclaimed actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson (The Fighting Temptations, A Raisin in the Sun) and featuring the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose (A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls) as Hansberry, the documentary portrays the writer’s lifetime commitment to fighting injustice and how she found her way to art—the theater—as her medium for activism at a crucial time for black civil rights. American Masters – Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart also explores her concealed identity as a lesbian and the themes of sexual orientation and societal norms in her works. The film title comes from Hansberry’s view that “one cannot live with sighted eyes and feeling heart and not know or react to the miseries which afflict this world.”

This documentary is part of American Masters’ year-long Inspiring Woman online campaign which includes podcasts, a web series now streaming on, YouTube and Facebook, and story submissions. People can share stories of inspirational women in their own lives via text, images or videos on the Inspiring Woman website or via Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #InspiringWomanPBS.

Launched in 1986, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.

American Masters – Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is a production of Lorraine Hansberry Documentary Project, LLC in co-production with Independent Television Service and Black Public Media in association with The Film Posse, Chiz Schultz Inc. and American Masters Pictures. Materials from the Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust were provided by special consultant Joi Gresham. Tracy Heather Strain is producer, director and writer. Randall MacLowry is producer and editor. Chiz Schultz is the executive producer. Executive producer for ITVS is Sally Jo Fifer, and Jacquie Jones for Black Public Media. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer.

Funding for Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ford Foundation/JustFilms, National Endowment for the Arts, LEF Foundation, Peter G. Peterson & Joan Ganz Cooney Fund.

Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.


Transcript Print

Serious drama - serious drama - drama that has at least the objective of making a larger statement about life, I think sooner or later has to become involved in its time.

Lorraine Hansberry is hugely important for having written 'A Raisin in the Sun,' the most celebrated play by an African American author, considered one of the great plays of the 20th Century.

Looking in the mirror this morning, I'm thinking I'm 35 years old, I'm married 11 years, and I've got a boy who has got to sleep in the living room because I've got nothin', hey?

Nothing to give him but stories!

She was reaching into the essence of who we were, who we are, where we came from.

It isn't as if we got up today and said, 'What can we do to irritate America?'

Lorraine was a very political person.

Her plays - that to me is her jumping-off place.

She's fighting the oppression of women.

She's fighting against race discrimination, poverty, class.

Lorraine wasn't just a classic main-stream liberal.

Lorraine was a left-wing radical.

It really doesn't matter whether you're talking about the oppressed or the oppressor.

An oppressive society will dehumanize and degenerate everyone involved.

Among all the women I knew, she was the most exciting.

As a middle-class black woman, Hansberry was supposed to live a conventional life.

And certainly in her early years in New York, she was not living a conventional life.

She's living this kind of parallel life and writing about it.

Lorraine became a part of my consciousness.

She seemed to know something about everything.

She was a profound thinker.

Lorraine was this new moment on the horizon.

She set a whole new paradigm, a whole new stage for what we could now begin to expect of America, and what we could begin to expect of ourselves.