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The story behind Nina Simone’s protest song, “Mississippi Goddam”

Nina Simone around 1950. Photo: Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

 

By Liz Fields

It was a bloody Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963 that inspired the singer and pianist Nina Simone’s famous protest song, “Mississippi Goddam.” Four young Black girls died that day in a white supremacist terror attack that would become known as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. But the incongruously upbeat show tune wasn’t just crying out about this sole event. Simone was also lamenting the recent gunning down of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi. She was voicing anguish about all the acts of violence and oppression against Black communities in the segregated South. She was weaponizing music itself.

“At first I tried to make myself a gun. I gathered some materials. I was going to take one of them out, and I didn’t care who it was,” Simone famously said after hearing of the Birmingham bombing. “Then Andy, my husband at the time, said to me, ‘Nina, you can’t kill anyone. You are a musician. Do what you do.’ When I sat down the whole song happened. I never stopped writing until the thing was finished.”

The end result, composed in under an hour, would become her first battle cry for the civil rights movement. “It was my first civil rights song,” she later recalled, “and it erupted out of me quicker than I could write it down.”

“Alabama’s gotten me so upset // Tennessee made me lose my rest // And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” Simone sings in the song’s opening line. Writing and performing it felt “like throwing ten bullets back” at the four Ku Klux Klan members who planted the dynamite, she said.

Actual justice was agonizingly slow for the victims and community affected by the bombing. One of the Birmingham perpetrators wasn’t convicted until 14 years after the attack and two others weren’t jailed until more than 38 years later. The fourth died before being charged.

Simone’s protest anthem addresses the general sluggish pace of change and justice in America: “I don’t trust you anymore // You keep on saying ‘Go slow!’ // Go slow! // But that’s just the trouble.” She also addresses the fears surrounding a biased criminal justice system that could easily be transposed to racial injustices that are still being protested against today: “Hound dogs on my trail // School children sitting in jail // Black cat cross my path // I think every day’s gonna be my last.”

“In Mississippi Goddam, we have Nina Simone pulling from the past and invoking it in the present, but also speaking to what is yet to come if America does not enact real social change,” said musicology professor Tammy Kernodle.

The song’s stinging lyrics subvert the lively, up-tempo refrains of the melody itself – seemingly a commentary on America’s eagerness to ignore or wallpaper over the pain of racism and segregation. The (mostly white) audience who heard the show tune as it was being recorded live at Carnegie Hall did not seem to get the message at first. At the start of the performance when Simone announces, “The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam, and I mean every word of it,” the crowd titters and laughs. In the middle of the recording when she addresses the crowd again with, “Bet you thought I was kidding didn’t you?” Her question is met with only a few murmurs.

Then there were those who protested the protest tune. “We got several letters where they had actually broken up this recording and sent it back to the recording company, really, telling them it was in bad taste,” Simone said during a 1964 interview on the Steve Allen Show. “They missed the whole point.”

In the years after she first penned the song, Simone changed the lyric, “Tennessee made me lose my rest,” several times during various live performances around the country and the world. On the same 1964 episode of Allen’s show, Simone swapped the line for, “St. Augustine made me lose my rest,” in honor of the civil rights movement that took hold in that Floridian city. A year later, she sang for “Selma,” after the brutal police confrontation with peaceful marchers across Alabama’s Edmund Pettus bridge in 1965, and later that same year for “Watts,” when riots broke out over six days in that Los Angeles neighborhood. Simone then mourned that, “Memphis made me lose my rest,” after Martin Luther King was assassinated there in 1968.

“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. That to me is my duty,” Simone said in an interview with Black Journal. “And at this crucial time in our lives when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved.

“Young people, Black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country, I will not be molded and shaped at all anymore.”

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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪ Lincoln: ♪ Spread the word, spread the gospel ♪ ♪ Let the congregation know ♪ That a cornet was the downfall ♪ ♪ Of the walls of Jericho ♪ Spread the word, spread the gospel ♪ I made a movie called 'The Girl Can't Help It' with Jayne Mansfield and, um,Little Richard, and Fats Domino.

♪ Revival meeting, spread the... ♪ In a dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in a movie called 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.'

Well, what does that make me?

I would wear this dress and go places and I'd open the show or whatever, and my breasts would be bouncing around -- I'd run on the stage.

Falk: She was a chanteuse, sexy dresses, she rolled around on the piano.

She was a pretty face.

She more or less ran from that image.

And she ran to the role of a truth teller.

Lincoln: I saw myself as beautiful, but I didn't see myself as an imitation of anybody but an original.

♪ Choppin' cotton, don't be slow ♪ ♪ Better finish out your row And I found songs that would express what was in my heart.

♪ Keep a movin' with that plow Falk: She told me, she said, 'You know what I did with that dress?

I threw it in a furnace.'

I said, 'Well why?'

'Are you kidding?

I'm not wearing some white woman's hand-me-downs!'

Lincoln: What is most important to me is being free of the shackles that chain me.

♪ Freedom day ♪♪ ♪♪ Keys: Black women entertainers -- they blazed such a trail... Jim: I hear that you're a big star now.

Selina: Yes, I'm doing nicely, thank you.

Keys: When I think of all these women, I think of such credible human beings who really stood for equality and justice.

And that is in the spirit of activism and the way that art and politics all crossed.

Simone: ♪ Somebody save me Tillet: Oftentimes they'reforgotten, and yet these artists are the most influential and oftentimes the most vanguard performers in American culture.

Berry: These women were pioneers in the industry.

They were making a way out of no way.

They actually had careers in a time when they really weren't supposed to have careers.

Tyson: Nathan!

Feldstein: Some are musicians, some are more famous on TV, some through films, but they all took risks, and they engaged with Black freedom struggles in terms of the ways in which they represented Blackness on screen, on stage, in music, in their lyrics, their choices of clothing, their choices of hairstyles.

Rhimes: This moment right here, me standing up here and my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, that could only be happening right now.

How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?

How many cuts did they get?

How many bruises?

How hard did they have to hit the ceiling?

Tillet: All of these artists have been carving out a space for themselves in an industry that's still not quite ready to hear what they're saying or performing or singing.

They had to create the space for themselves to be heard.

♪♪ ♪♪ Carroll: I lived in New York and I was in the Village a lot.

I loved being in the Village.

It was all so multiracial, and people mixed and mingled with less fear, less anxiety -- what the world should be.

Everything was based upon something you could do, not what you looked like.

Feldstein: Women entertainers were particularly important in New York City in interracial subcultures based in Harlem and the Village where this idea that activism and entertainment could come together in these exciting ways.

Kernodle: Greenwich Village becomes this cultural, musical, artistic enclave beginning as early as the 1930s.

But then it also becomes this incubator of progressive political ideologies.

Horne: ♪ I can't give you ♪ Anything but love, baby Waithe: Someone asked if I was named after Lena Dunham, and I said 'No, I'm named for Lena Horne.'

Horne: ♪ Baby Waithe: When my mom was pregnant, she saw Lena Horne on TV.

She knew if she was having a girl, that she would want them to have the same amount of, uh, class and grace as Lena had.

And I do everythingI can to try to live up to that.

Horne: ♪ There's honey in the honeycomb ♪ Jackson: My God, she was a goddess.

She was -- she was someone who I just thought existed sort of in the ether as just this angelic beauty.

Buckley: She was a singer.

She was, uh, an activist.

She was a forerunner.

She was an international superstar.

♪ Horne: In me ♪ [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ Buckley: In 1933, my mother went into the Cotton Club knowing how to -- vaguely -- how to dance and sing.

♪♪ Her mother decided she could do better and spirited her away from the Cotton Club to, uh, Boston to sing with Noble Sissle, and he changed her imagefrom the Cotton Club chorus girl to a torch singer -- that was sort of the style of the day.

Finally, she got a job at that kept her in New York at Café Society.

Kernodle: One of the central entities that defines Greenwich Village is Café Society, the night club that is created in the late 1930s.

Buckley: It was the only integrated night club outside of Harlem.

It was started to raise money for the Communist Party.

It was sort of radical chic in its day.

It was full of showbiz people, and celebrities, and socialite people, but also Communists.

So, my mother got a political education.

Horne: I began to thrive.

I was introduced to great writers, and painters, actors, and intellectuals.

People like Langston Hughes, and Orson Welles, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington.

♪♪ Kernodle: We also have the great Hazel Scott, who is oftentimes excluded from these conversations of civil rights who's performing there.

♪♪ Tillet: That's where Billie Holiday famously premieres 'Strange Fruit.'

Holiday: ♪ Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze ♪ ♪ Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees ♪ Feldstein: Lena Horne later talked about that as a time of awakening for her.

Horne: I met Paul Robeson, who became a part of my life.

Regester: Paul Robeson was a renowned Black intellectual and as he became more, uh, disconcerted with the politics of America and he became a kind of international figure, his political beliefs and viewscertainly influenced Lena Horne.

Interviewer: Mr. Robeson, have you come back from Moscow still a convinced Communist?

Robeson: I don't see how you can ask me that.

How do you know am a Communist? Nobody else knows.

Interviewer: What are your political opinions?

Have they been changed at all?

Robeson: My political opinions about the Soviet Union have only been deepened.

I believe in socialism, the hope of the future.

Feldstein: Robeson was enormously influential in terms of the ways in which he modeled being an activist entertainer.

And that he showed other artists and performers that one could mesh activism and political commitments with their artistry.

Horne: He says, 'You're a Negro and that is the whole basis of what you feel and it's the basis of what you will become.'

And he gave me identity -- he grounded me.

Feldstein: Abbey Lincoln's career started very much in the mold that Lena Horne had established several decades earlier.

Very sexualized, glamorous, singing these popular hits.

She moved to New York -- she became more invested in changing her musical style.

She became more invested in jazz vocals and she also became more interested in Black politics.

Lincoln: Well, I came to New York and met all these people -- you know, these writers, painters, musicians - who told me why it was, every time I would go to a city, I'd find my relatives, the people that I represented, living in hovels and they didn't have anything, you know?

I thought, I said, 'Why is this?

What is this?'

And they said, 'Oh, this is because of this, and because of that, and because of that.'

And I said, 'Okay, well, we have to fix it then.'

Kernodle: She ends up in the '50s in this progressive scene that's being refueled.

Some of that political culture, some of that political energy is being reformed in these different nightclubs.

♪♪ ♪♪ Kernodle: In 1960, Nina Simone becomes a part of this nexus of artists and activists and writers and political leaders that are meeting in New York.

Tillet: She's in a community of people who are from many margins, and that kind of gives her a different courage to be a different kind of artist.

Keys: I'll never forget the first time I played at Montreux Jazz Festival.

The guy who had run the festival since, you know, it started; he has an archive of every person that's ever touched the stage.

So, he said, 'Who do you want to see?'

And I was like, 'I have to see Nina.'

And I just watched her riveted in this little theater, like, her playing this piano.

And I was like, 'I'm never gonna play again because I'm never gonna be as good as her.'

[ Laughs ] Tillet: Nina Simone was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, and she was discovered at a very young age to be a musical prodigy.

Her family moves to Philadelphia all in the attempt to audition for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and she's rejected.

Was it because she wasn't good enough?

Was it because she was a woman?

Was it because she was Black?

The answer to that is unknown.

Heartbroken, she had to reinvent herself.

She gigs in Atlantic City.

Her mother is a very religious figure, so she doesn't want her mom to know she's playing jazz.

So, she takes on this name, 'Nina Simone,' after the French actress Simone Signoret.

She was seen as kind of exceptional from the very beginning of her career.

♪♪ Kernodle: And she comes under the influence of James Baldwin, and Lorraine Hansberry, as well as Miriam Makeba and Abbey Lincoln.

Tillet: These figures were known as, like, Civil Rights writers, right?

Lorraine Hansberry's, uh, famous play, 'A Raisin in the Sun,' uh, Baldwin is writing scathing criticisms, um, like 'The Fire Next Time.'

She has a -- a cool quote about Lorraine Hansberry that they were talking about, like, Marx and Lenin and revolution.

You know, girl stuff, right?

♪♪ Pierce: I always taught my daughter if she wanted to know something, don't ask the Internet.

Find the smartest person in the room.

Lewis: When we see Black women on -- in film and in television, the first thing that happens is we applaud.

We made it, we're being actually seen.

You know, the second thing that happens, I think for myself, is an analysis happens.

How are we being portrayed?

When I see Black women in any kind of TV or film, it's an act of protest because I know how long and how hard you have to fight to even get there.

Horne: ♪ Don't know why ♪ There's no sun up in the sky ♪ ♪ Stormy weather ♪ Since my man and I ain't together ♪ Buckley: She arrived in Hollywood the same time that Walter White arrived in Hollywood to speak to Hollywood producers to ask them to change the stereotypes in Hollywood, and they agreed.

Horne: They began to talk about me being at the studio.

So, I called my father.

'Cause my father, he was tough, hard-working provider.

He was a gangster.

He was in what we used to call 'sporting life.'

Buckley: Walter White and her father convinced her that she could change the image of Black women in Hollywood.

Horne: Suffice to say he came to Hollywood the next day and I arranged a meeting with him with L.B. Mayer.

And my dad walks in -- and he's sharp -- you know, he was.

And he had on a diamond stick pin but a very conservative dark suit.

And he said, 'Mr. Mayer, it's a great privilege you're offering my daughter,' he says, 'But, I can buy my own daughter her own maid.'

He was just jivin', you understand.

'I don't want her to be insulted.

I -- it's very nice, but she's not going to be in a 'Tarzan' picture and run around in a leopard skin.'

Well, my father was from -- [ Laughs ] And I don't think Mr. Mayer had ever been approached by a Black man like that.

So, he just sat and he said, 'Oh, well, Mr. Horne, we wouldn't do anything to -- to -- to --' And of course, remember in 1940 the NAACP was trying to break the union out there to get Black cameramen, get Black people on the sets.

Buckley: She was definitely a pioneer in her day because Black women represented -- had been represented on screen mostly in demeaning roles.

Mammy: If you don't care what folks says about this family, I does!

I's told you and told you, they can always tell a lady by the way that she eats in front of folks like a bird.

I ain't aiming for you... Stewart: The Mammy, who I think, um, you know, many of us might immediately bring to mind Hattie McDaniel as the character named Mammy in 'Gone with the Wind.'

-Scarlett: Oh! -Mammy: Just hold on!

And suck in!

Stewart: So if you think about that iconic image of Hattie McDaniel tying up the corset of Scarlett O'Hara, the Mammy is, um, completely devotedto perpetuating white womanhood.

Hattie McDaniel,first Academy award-winning role for a Black actor.

McDaniel: I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.

Lewis: I remember the first time seeing 'Gone with the Wind,' and I remember thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I want to be Scarlett O'Hara.

Hattie McDaniel didn't even play in my consciousness because the message that got infiltrated was to be a Black woman who is dark and poor is a negative thing, and it is not something to aspire or to relate to.

Jackson: Seeing Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel.

Seeing Stepin Fetchit wasn't confusing to me.

I mean, I knew white people had this image of us as being shuffling and lazy.

Keys: The level of stereotyping has been through the roof.

So blatant and so obvious.

Captain Eli: Holy Moses!

Dr. Pearly: Moses nothing! Say that's Jonah!

Jonah: I worked for the doctor, and I just -- Captain Eli: Well, come on out of there now.

Ain't nobody gonna harm you.

What you doin' in there?

Jonah: Nothin'. I was just -- thought you -- thought I was Mr. Professor, and I -- Stewart: The scholarDonald Bogle wrote a book called 'Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks.'

The movies did not invent these stereotypes.

They came from much older traditions of representing Black people across media and literature and theater.

And the movies just picked up on those things, but then I think also really amplified them and circulated them more broadly.

♪♪ Patsy: ♪ I got to black my face ♪ Put on a stovepipe hat Jim: ♪ On the February morn ♪ A tiny baby boy was born Warden: Well, thank you boys!

Here's my card.

Any time you're up my way, drop in.

Simonpillai: You need to look at the foundations of film, right?

Like, the foundations of film are much like the foundations of America.

Like, in the same way that America was built on slavery, film was built on racist imagery.

The film that is largely credited as teaching us how to make films is 'Birth of a Nation.'

This was D. W. Griffith's epic recreation of the Civil War era.

It's a movie that was built offthe racist imagery from society.

But it then, in turn, fed society by -- by inspiring the second coming of the KKK.

Horne: In any case, I became the first Black to be signed to a long-term contract.

Seven years.

They said, 'Well, now, you are in a very representative position and you must make sure that you handle yourself circumspectly so that you don't embarrass other Black women.'

That was a heavy load, you know?

Simonpillai: Progress in Hollywood comes in waves, okay?

Like it always -- it's always baby steps and it comes in waves, right?

So, they saw Lena Horne as kind of the new -- the new hope.

Regester: Why Lena Horne managed to negotiate this contract with the Hollywood industry, was a result of the fact that African Americans had contributed to World War II.

And they realized that because of the Black contributions, that the country was changing.

And so, they were gonna have to compromise in terms of the demands that Blacks were making and expecting in view of theircontributions to the war effort.

Feldstein: For Lena Horne to say, 'No, I will not play maids onscreen,' was to reject all of these deeply entrenched historical stereotypes of African American women.

She was saying, 'No, I can be another kind of performer.

I can offer a different kind of representation.'

Horne: ♪ We could be messin' round ♪ But you is digressin' round ♪ ♪ While I'm tossin' nature at your feet ♪ My signing this contract and their hearing that I would not do certain kind of work, got me into a lot of trouble with Black actors.

Stewart: This could actually seem really problematic for the Black actors who had been working in Hollywood for decades, who felt as though, you know, they were doing the work that was available to them.

[ Bell ringing ] ♪♪ Buckley: They feared that her contract would then make it difficult for all Black performers.

-Jim: Oh, Mamie! -Mamie: Coming!

Buckley: If she refused to be a servant, then they wouldn't have any more servant parts.

Stewart: Actors like Hattie McDaniel, uh, could feel some kind of way about Lena Horne entering Hollywood, ostensibly, to improve the image of the Negro; well, then, like, what does that say about what Hattie McDaniel has been doing?

Horne: They very fact that I was one of the first, you know, I was isolated right away because there was no niche for me.

I was in the middle.

Gray, you see.

This pale thing.

♪ In sunny Puerto Rico ♪ We drink floats of rum and ♪ While our favorite houseboy Chico ♪ ♪ Shakes the rhythm of the spin ♪ Berry: Lena Horne was the first woman of color I ever saw in a movie ever.

And I had the immediate reaction of saying, 'Is she Black or is she white?'

I was a little confused.

And that's when I got the first lesson on a drop of Black blood makes you Black, and you should understand that right now.

Horne: ♪ It was just one of those things ♪ The first movie that I was in at MGM was called 'Panama Hattie.'

♪ We have been aware ♪ That our love affair was too hot ♪ 'Who's the new Latin singer?' everybody was asking.

Well, MGM may have wanted to pass me off as Latin, but when my own people accused me of trying to pass, I was furious, and I felt more isolated than ever.

They said, uh, um, 'Why don't you be Latin?

Pass as Latin.'

I mean, you know, 'you don't -- don't look colored,' and all that kind of nonsense.

Cavett: That was always meant to be a compliment for you?

Horne: That was meant to be a big compliment, see.

So anyway... [ Laughter ] By the time they put dark makeup on me to make match the darker actors that I was working with, all they had was teeth.

Buckley: Then they said, 'Okay.

Max Factor was the genius.'

So, he invented a new color pancake makeup called 'Light Egyptian,' which they put on mother, and they put on everybody who ever played a jungle princess after that.

Hedy Lamarr wore it. Everybody wore it.

Horne: ♪ Oh, listen, sister Buckley: My mother wanted very much to play Julie in 'Show Boat' because she'd sung some of Julie's songs in 'Ziegfeld Follies.'

Horne: ♪ Can't help lovin' that man of mine ♪ Feldstein: Lena Hornewas particularly attracted to it because she, herself, was a light-skinned Black woman singer and the fictional character was as well.

Horne: So, when they were casting the movie many years later, I hoped I would be chosen for the part.

Feldstein: MGM felt it was too big of a risk to cast a light-skinned Black woman to play a leading role as a light-skinned Black woman.

Horne: Instead they chose Ava Gardner, who ironically was my best white girlfriend out there.

Gardner: ♪ Tell me I'm crazy Horne: And they put dark make-up on her, created for me especially, and she played Julie.

Gardner and Horne: ♪ Can't help ♪ Lovin' that man of mine Feldstein: As successful and prominent as Lena Horne was, it is worth thinking about what her career might have been if this door and other doors hadn't been shut to her.

Buckley: My mother could've played that part, but Hollywood was nervous.

They were always nervous about race because of the Southern market, which was their biggest market.

And Southerners just slashed any movie that had a Black in it that wasn't playing a servant.

And it was Hollywood's way of, of saying, 'Look, we're not racist.

We have this Black star.

But at the same time, we don't do anything with her.'

Joe: You know I still love you.

Georgia: Now, you just be a little more careful what you say to your wife in front of me.

[ Laughter ] Joe: Georgia, you keep out of this.

Georgia: I'm speaking my mind.

Petunia: And I ain't heard a sound.

Georgia: Now Little Joe, are you just so dumb you can't see what she's after?

Petunia: We're both after the same thing, but I'm still the wife and got the inside track.

Buckley: There were only two movies that she ever had speaking parts in: 'Cabin in the Sky' and 'Stormy Weather,' and they helped make her famous.

Simonpillai: Like, here's MGM doing this really progressive thing by making an all-Black musical for the Black audiences.

That was the big progress for Hollywood.

And they never did it again.

Horne: ♪ Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey ♪ ♪ Over there, you ol' ♪ Hey hey hey hey, your cities gonna fall ♪ ♪ Do you give in Feldstein: She ends up being in films where she appears as a singer.

She doesn't have a speaking role.

And the reason they did that was so that, um, Southern distributors could cut her out of the movie if they so chose.

Jackson: I actually went to segregated movie theaters on Saturday.

We had two movie theaters that were specifically Black in Chattanooga because we couldn't go to the other theaters anyway.

So, I went to The Liberty or The Grand, which were on diagonal corners from each other.

So, I saw movies in that particular way.

Horne: The censors, they took out a beautiful scene I did when, when I take a bubble bath in 'Cabin in the Sky.'

They don't show it in the picture.

They cut it out because everybody said, 'What's this Black woman doing in these soap suds acting like, you know.'

And it's one of the prettiest scenes in the picture.

♪ Love is a rippling brook ♪ Man is a fish to cook ♪ You got to bait your hook ♪ Rise and shine ♪ And cast your line They hadn't made me a maid, but they hadn't made me into anything else either.

So, I just became a little butterfly pinned up against the wall, singing all these lovely songs.

Singing my heart away in Hollywood.

♪♪ Announcer: And now ladies and gentlemen, the Plaza Hotel takes great pride in presenting Ms. Diahann Carroll.

Carroll: ♪ Things look swell, things look great ♪ ♪ Gonna have the whole world on a plate ♪ ♪ Starting here, starting now ♪ Honey, everything's coming up roses ♪ Feldstein: Diahann Carroll came of age professionally, um, with this aura of glamour around her, and the parts that she played reinforced that.

She won the Tony Award for 'No Strings' in which she played the part of a model.

Carroll: I wanted this.

I'm like Abe Burrows, I really wanted this.

Interviewer: I know inevitably you will be and probably are already compared with Lena Horne.

Does this bother you at all?

Carroll: I suppose it does on the same basis that any young artist hopes to carve out their own niche and, uh, not suffer through comparisons, but I don't mind the comparison because to me Lena Horne is one of the greatest performers in the world.

So being compared to that caliber is kind of, very nice.

Jackson: She's this iconic, kind of, figure that still maintains part of that Hollywood mystique.

Uh, and she was around when Hollywood stars were bigger than life and more mysterious than magic.

And she's created a sort of niche that a lot of young actresses don't even realize: the ingenue, the gorgeous, kind of smart, sexy woman that could entice people of all races, you know, not just -- not just the brothers.

Carroll: In the United States, as well as here, there are very few Negroes employed in -- in television drama and in movies.

And I would like to do more, as I'm sure many other young Negro actors and actresses would like to do, but the job opportunities are few.

Lewis: You look at an actress like Diahann Carroll, light-skinned, beautiful, and she still was not able to have the opportunities that her white counterparts had.

Feldstein: In 1962, congressman Adam Clayton Powell convened hearingsto address racial discrimination in the entertainment industries, and Diahann Carroll was among the Black luminaries that testified.

It's kind of hard for us to imagine now.

They were not recorded; they were not televised.

The white mainstream press barely wrote a word about it, even though the African American press covered it extensively.

Woman: I am living proof of the horror of discrimination because when you consider how little employment I have had, in the field of television and Broadway, and yet being as well-known as I am, I have been discriminated because of my color.

Man: Here is the brightest star on Broadway, a girl who virtually made 'No Strings,' all the critics have said so -- yet, you have only worked twice in seven and a half years?

If they made a film of 'No Strings,' they would probably get a white girl and darken her up.

Feldstein: It's a little bit ironic because the erasure of the hearings brings even more attention to the fact of why Adam Clayton Powell was motivated to have these hearings in the first place.

It was to talk about the absence of Black people in Hollywood industries.

Lewis: You often hear about people talk about the gatekeepers in Hollywood, they're the ones that decide howwide the gate's gonna be opened, and how much they're gonna close the gate.

But the thing for Black people is that there's always less of us allowed through.

Waithe: You can't deny that there are fair-skinned Black actresses that just have more opportunities than actresses that are -- that are brown-skinned.

And that's just a fact.

Interviewer: It seems a number of times in -- in your life and career, you have been, quote unquote, 'The first Black woman to...' do one thing or another.

Did that bother you? Did you like that?

Carroll: No, I don't mind, I really don't mind.

I know why it happens to me, as opposed to happen-- happening to others, and I think it is because God put me together in a way that is more acceptable to the white community, 'Oh, it's not such a major chance, let's take it with Diahann.'

And -- and that does not make me feel proud of the white community.

Waithe: I get these lists of actors that, you know, that studios and networks deem more profitable, or... or feel as if it can help get the movie greenlit.

And very rarely are there brown-skinned women at the top of those lists.

Ross: When it comes to getting jobs, light is better to certain people that are hiring.

Um, you know, that's why, not to take away from the other women, you know Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne, they're at a -- they're a different thought to me.

Um, they are not in the same realm because I am not going to be like a Diahann Carroll, you know.

I am a brown woman and I have a whole other kind of situation that I'm going to have to deal with in life.

Dr. Copeland: Portia?

Are you drunk?

Portia: No.

I been trying mighty hard, but I ain't been able to make it... Yet.

Berry: Someone like Cicely Tyson didn't fit into that mold, and she was, um, accepted for her talent alone.

And it wasn't about her physicality or what she looked like, or if she fit into that box or not.

And I think that gave, um, a pathway to women that didn't fit in that box to also be respected, and to be found beautiful in their own right, and not be defined by this white American's version of what beauty is.

Keys: Yeah, Cicely Tyson.

I mean, obviously she's been a part of some of the most incredible films of all time.

But what I remember the most is meeting her, and I was immediately drawn to her.

That gorgeous skin in this most magnificent queen face, and this tiny body, by the way -- very small woman.

And spirit like, 'Bam!'

Feldstein: In 1961, one of Cicely Tyson's first big performances was in a play called 'The Blacks.'

She was very committed to portraying her character, you know, accurately and with dignity.

And I think that was a defining thing for Tyson and remains so to this day.

-Flo: May I sit, please? -Elizabeth: Yes, yes please.

Feldstein: Where she chooses her parts so carefully, infusing her roles with a realism and a believability.

Ross: Cicely Tyson stood out to me because she was brown skinned.

So, I'm like 'Okay, she's like me,' you know?

And then she was also becoming characters that were not stereotypes, they were real people.

They were people with emotion, with heart.

They weren't always pretty people; they were just real.

Waithe: I think that we need to level the playing field so that way the best person for the job is who gets it.

But it really is -- it's tricky.

I mean, you cannot -- These days, if you cast a light-skinned woman, Black Twitter is coming for you.

Uh, but then somebody could also argue if you're a lighter skinned actress, and you want an opportunity, are you paying for the sins of those that came before you?

Sweet Honey in the Rock: ♪ We who believe in freedom ♪ Cannot rest ♪ We who believe in freedom cannot rest ♪ Tillet: Black women were so fundamental to the Civil Rights Movement.

They were the rank and file.

Sweet Honey in the Rock: ♪ Not needing to clutch ♪ For power, not needing to... ♪ Hamer: I question America.

Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live asdecent human beings, in America?

Thank you.

Tillet: When we look back, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker were clearly leaders in the movement and yet we write these women out of the narrative.

Buckley: Her grandmother made my mother a lifetime member of the NAACP when she was two, so she had a sense of activism her entire life and never gave up on it, even when she was, um, criticized for it.

My mother started off the '60s with a bang.

She was in The Luau restaurant in Hollywood.

She was sitting up in the balcony at the restaurant, and she heard a little commotion down below.

A drunken man called, 'Waiter, waiter!'

And the waiter said, 'I'll be with you, I just have to serve Ms. Horne.'

Horne: And he said, 'Who the hell is Lena Horne?

Who does she think she is?

She's just another' -- n-word -- 'just like all the rest of them.'

And I got so mad I picked up a lamp off the table, I threw that first.

I picked up three other ash trays -- glass ones -- and I threw them at him, and he began to bleed down the side of his head.

And the people over on his side of the room were looking.

Nobody touched me 'cause I was furious.

And sometimes your madness just mounts into, you know, beautiful madness.

And I struck him, and I got tons of mail, and letters, and telegrams from Black people who said, you know, 'Hey! Thank you and how wonderful.'

And all I said, 'My God, I'm not alone.'

I had lived a long time without that feeling.

I even got one from Joe Louis who said, 'I always said you had a great right arm!'

Feldstein: This woman who had been in front of cameras and audiences since she was 16 was saying, 'Look at me in a new way.'

And so she was really aligning herself with the younger generation of activists who were also demanding to be seen.

Sweet Honey In The Rock: ♪ I'm a woman ♪ Who speaks in a voice ♪ And I must be heard ♪ At times I can be quite difficult ♪ ♪ I'll bow to no man's word ♪ We who believe in freedom Horne: What brought me out was the young people of my race and their movement all over this country gave me something to feel.

I -- I became alive again.

Announcer: I take great pleasure and pride in introducing to you Ms. Lena Horne.

[ Cheers and applause ] Horne: Freedom!

I don't feel like a movie star particularly, but I'm a New Yorker, and what happens in the South happens to my state and for my state too.

It's a communal effort, I'm sure.

♪♪ ♪♪ Carroll: The marches I will never forget.

It was wonderful, frightening.

It just had a feeling of something you should be doing.

That was the most important point -- how much power our voices had.

Feldstein: Behind the scenes Diahann Carroll supported Black organizations --the NAACP, and SNCC financially.

She hosted fundraisers in her home.

Carroll: I met Dr. King through Harry Belafonte.

It was a strange sensation because we were in the presence of someone who really understood that what he was doing would probably cause his death.

King: The Negro still is not free.

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

[ Cheers and applause ] Carroll: He operated without ever mentioning it, but it was all around him, like an aura.

That he was certainly willing to give up his life to do what needed to be done.

[ Indistinct shouts ] Falk: Abbey Lincoln was very serious when it came to her emancipation and the emancipation of her people.

Kernodle: Her apartment became a meeting place for activists, and also celebrities that were activists.

Feldstein: She was really involved in critiques of colonialism and really thinking about Black diasporic politics in -- in sophisticated ways.

Falk: For example, uh, when Patrice Lumumba was involved in the coup d'état and Mobutu Sese Seko overthrew the government.

Well, Abbey Lincoln and other Black entertainers as well as Black youth in America begged America to help Patrice Lumumba protect his country, and they didn't do a damn thing about it.

Narrator: Arrests, ill treatment, imprisonment, death.

Such was the fate of Patrice Lumumba.

The slaying of the deposed Congo premiere is violently protested by students and left-wing demonstrators in important rural cities.

First in the United Nations itself, where a Security Council meeting was violently interrupted.

♪♪ Albertson: There was some protest at the U.N... -Lincoln: Mm-hmm. -Albertson: And there was a picture on the front page of the And you weren't identified but you were right there in the -- in the forefront.

Lincoln: We were making armbands for the men and, uh, veils for the women.

We didn't know there was going to be a demonstration like this.

Nobody planned it.

Narrator: Most of the group are American Negroes, members of African nationalist groups in New York.

Lincoln: I remember crashing the gates of Security Council.

I never was a violent person, and it was really scary for me.

Narrator: 18 United Nations guards were injured in making arrests.

Lincoln: There were a lot of lies they told because we didn't have any weapons because nobody knew this was going to happen.

♪ How you do ♪ Do carry on ♪♪ Roach: Alright. This is the, uh, 'Laid him in the tomb'... Two, three, four.

Lincoln: ♪ Were you there when they laid him.. ♪ Roach: I'm the drummer.

My name is Max Roach.

Lincoln: ♪ In the tomb Roach: This beautiful young lady is very special to me.

She's my wife, Abbey Lincoln, the voice of our group.

Falk: Abbey married Max Roach, and the two of them together became a force to be reckoned with.

They did the 'Freedom Now Suite,' which is considered to be one of the greatest records in jazz, and it truly is.

So, Abbey's voice, Max's band, Oscar Brown Jr's lyrics, I mean, it was something. It really was.

Lincoln: ♪ Rumors flyin', must be lyin' ♪ ♪ Can it really be?

♪ Can't conceive it, don't believe it ♪ ♪ But that's what they say Kernodle: You really hear her being radical and transgressive in what she does musically.

The use of the voice is not that feminine, nuanced sound that we equate with jazz singers.

Lincoln: ♪ Herero, Grebo, Ibo Kernodle: It's about creating sound that emotes emotion and experience.

It's embedded in that, right.

It is really clear that she's engaging in resistance culture.

Lincoln: ♪ Choppin' cotton, don't be slow ♪ ♪ Better finish out your row ♪ Keep a movin' with that plow ♪ ♪ Driva' man'll show you how Falk: This record in a lot of ways was a battle cry, you know?

It was a manifesto of -- of -- of 'enough is enough.'

Feldstein: 'We Insist!' has a photo on the front of the Greensboro sit-in activists.

And again, very explicitly political in terms of its claims for Black rights.

Kernodle: You have Black and white college students who are beginning to organize.

They're going to spark the direct action campaigns, the pray-ins, the sit-ins, the freedom rides that are going to propel the movement into a new level of activity, but also bring the movement to the attention of white America and the world.

Tillet: By the time she's performing this really radical suite, she's heralding and harnessing the long history of Black women's experience in the United States.

Lincoln: ♪ Ah! Ah! Ah!

♪ Ah!

♪ Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! ♪ Tillet: Sonically, she's trying to invoke and imitate what she imagined enslaved Black women were feeling under siege, under assault, and on the plantations.

Lincoln: Learning to scream was very good for me as far as my work is concerned.

It helped to unleash, uh, to release me, you know.

I believe that the role of the Black woman is the same role she's always played.

You do whatever is necessary, you know?

That's what we've always done.

Feldstein: What we see Black women entertainers doing is really forging what we call today an intersectional analysis.

They weren't just thinking about race.

They weren't just thinking about class.

They weren't just thinking about gender.

They were engaging in all of these at once simultaneously.

And they were forging kind of a freedom politics.

Lincoln: ♪ Slave no longer ♪ Slave no longer, this is Freedom Day ♪ ♪ Freedom Day, it's Freedom Day ♪ ♪ Throw those shackle 'n' chains away ♪ Tillet: And then by the timeyou get to the end of the suite, she's ushering a new moment of freedom that's tied to civil rights initiatives and equal pay initiatives.

So, she's -- she's saying that in song, right?

We need our equal rights, we need to be given fair wages, and we need voting rights.

Lincoln: ♪ Freedom Day!

♪♪ Stewart: As the Civil Rights Movement was gaining more and more momentum and urgency, African American entertainerswere very much on the front line along with other activists.

Feldstein: Lena Horne was one of the celebrities that James Baldwin invited to the meeting with Robert Kennedy in 1963 along with Harry Belafonte, Lorraine Hansberry, with white actor Rip Torn, as well as some younger civil rights activists.

Horne: James Baldwin came to New York, and I was with him at a very important meeting we had with Robert Kennedy and some other people.

I had to the right to be with them as a Black woman.

Not as Lena Horne.

Buckley: She said that the most interesting person at the meeting was one of the SNCC members.

Feldstein: SNCC stands for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

And it was one of the major civil rights organizations of the 1960s.

And was associated with younger, college aged activists.

Buckley: And that was how she got really interested in SNCC.

And he told harrowing stories of what it was like in Alabama and Mississippi.

And this young man from SNCC said he would never go to Vietnam, but he would fight in Mississippi.

Horne: I went to Medgar Evers' home in Mississippi and I was driven around the town.

And that's when he said to me, 'This is where I was born.

This country I love, and I love Mississippi.'

And he was working with people who were trying to get voter permission for Black people.

I got back to New York, and the next morning I was gonna go on NBC with, uh, Chet Huntley.

And he came in the room and said, 'We're gonna be a little late starting because... they've just killed Medgar Evers.'

We were all angry.

It wasn't a surprise.

It's never a surprise when you know what is going down.

Simone: ♪ Alabama's got me so upset ♪ ♪ Tennessee made me lose my rest ♪ ♪ Everybody knows about Mississippi goddam! ♪ ♪ Alabama's got me so upset ♪ California has made me lose my rest ♪ ♪ Everybody knows about Mississippi goddam! ♪ ♪ Can't you see it?

♪ I know you can feel it ♪ It's all in the air Baldwin: Six kids were murdered in Birmingham on a Sunday and in Sunday school in a Christian nation and nobody cares!

Tillet: Nina Simone, already feeling kind of a fury and sadness at the death of Medgar, learns that four girls were killed in the church bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

And so, Nina Simone famously says that she tried to make a gun and she didn't really know how to do that.

And so she composes 'Mississippi Goddam' in under an hour.

Kernodle: This is a pivotal point for Nina Simone, who says that at the -- at the moment in which that bombing took place, she had this spiritual awakening.

Simone: ♪ Hound dogs on my trail ♪ Little school children sitting in jail ♪ ♪ Black cat cross my path ♪ Think every day's gonna be my last ♪ Feldstein: So as Nina Simone went on that show and she performed 'Mississippi Goddam,' and she talked about it as a Black woman too.

In both performing and talking, she was able to bring these issues of race and racism into the homes of white Americans across the country.

Simone: First you get depressed, and after that you get mad.

And when these kids got bombed, I just sat down and wrote this song.

And it's a very moving, violent song, because that's how I feel about the whole thing.

It's called 'Mississippi-blank-blank.'

Allen: The first word is, 'God' and the second word is 'damn.'

And I think everybody up this late at night who can afford to pay for a television set is adult enough to recognize that one not only hears that expression, but probably most of you say it when you hit your thumb with a hammer.

Kernodle: In 'Mississippi Goddam,' we have Nina Simone pulling from the past and invoking it in the present, but also speaking to what is yet to come if America does not enact real social change.

King: Probably no admission of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to love your enemy.

Simone: ♪ Lord have mercy on this land of mine ♪ ♪ We all gonna get it in due time ♪ ♪ I don't belong here ♪ I don't belong there ♪ I've even stopped believing in prayer ♪ Kernodle: There was an instance when Nina Simone met Dr. King and had a meeting and talked with Dr. King.

And she made it clear to him that she respected him and what he was doing, but that she was not non-violent.

Simone: ♪ Mr. Backlash ♪ Mr. Backlash ♪ Who do you think I am?

♪ You raise my taxes and freeze my wages ♪ ♪ Sent my only son to Vietnam House: Nina Simone, one of our Say Something singers.

Her music articulates the hopes and purposes of Black people.

And 'Black Journal' recently accompanied Nina Simone on a nation-wide tour across the country.

Let's dig it.

Simone: Every song that I sing to me is important, that it communicates to -- something to someone.

It is not just a -- a song.

It's something that says something to someone.

It's very much like poetry, or a good play.

Something that communicates and gets into the soul of people.

Kernodle: Even from the beginning, when the first enslaved Africans arrived here in America, music has been the central form of resistance.

They've had no political agency, they've not had money, they've not had social power.

The only thing they've ever had is the ability to lift the voice, the ability to dance, and to defy gravity.

The ability to create rhythms, that can translate word and stir the soul, and Nina understood that.

Simone: An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.

That to me is my duty.

A-and at this crucial time in our lives when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don't think you can help but be involved.

Young people, Black and white, know this.

That's why they're so involved in politics.

We will shape and mold this country, I will not be molded and shaped at all anymore.

Keys: ♪ Simple walk to the corner store ♪ ♪ Mama never thought she would be gettin' a call ♪ ♪ From the coroner ♪ Said her son's been gunned down, been gunned down ♪ ♪ 'Can you come now?'

♪ Tears in her eyes, 'Can you calm down?' ♪ She didn't choose to speak out and be an activist, to know and feel what was going on socially in the world.

What will we have done?

That drives my -- my life right now.

Simone: I'm feeling good now!

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪ To be young, gifted, and Black ♪ ♪ Oh, how I've longed to know the truth ♪ Tillet: She's making such a clear indictment of American racism.

And she's doing it through really, really different kinds of musical tradition.

She's coming up with like the show tune for 'Mississippi Goddam.'

She's using a kind of gospel sound with 'To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.'

Simone: ♪ To be young, gifted and Black ♪ ♪ Hey, is where it's at ♪ Is where it's at ♪ Is where it's at ♪ Feldstein: Popular culture is tremendously important to the politics of civil rights.

People made sense of the Civil Rights Movement and engaged with the Civil Rights Movement in films, in music, on stage.

Tillet: Once you kind of create a lens for us to see art and entertainment as a political act, then you'll get a deeper understanding of the way women contribute.

♪♪ Announcer: 'The Beulah Show'! Harry: Well, that looks pretty good!

-Alice: Oh, it does Beulah. -Beulah: It ought to.

The prices they charging,I didn't know whether to cook it or deposit it!

Richardson: We didn't get to see colored people.

I can remember always running to the television or something and having somebody say, 'Colored people on TV!'

or something.

[ Snoring ] Sapphire: Wake up, you loafer!

You heard me, wake up!

Kingfish: Take a letter, sweetheart!

Sapphire: I said wake up!

Kingfish: Oh, oh, oh, Sapphire!

Jackson: We saw Amos and Andy.

We saw Rochester on Jack Benny.

-Jack: Rochester! -Rochester: Yes, boss!

Jack: Rochester, I asked you a thousand times to fix that dripping faucet!

Jackson: You know, and the occasional Black performer on Ed Sullivan.

Waithe: Sometimes television can seem superficial to people or they think, oh, it's just a TV show.

But when it's us, it's never just a TV show, it's never just a movie.

It's more than that.

It's a doorstop propping up a door so that way others can walk through.

♪♪ Richardson: Then along that time came, you know, Diahann Carroll with 'Julia.'

Kanter: I had been a guest of Jack Valenti, who asked a group of us to come to lunch and be introduced to a man named Roy Wilkins.

And he talked about the Negroes' place in the entertainment business.

How little they're represented properly on the air and backstage or behind the camera.

And I thought to myself, there's something more I can do and try to help the Black people present themselves more, because after all, I had done 'Amos 'n' Andy' and I had done 'Beulah.'

And I felt that I was partially responsible for some of the Black image that was prevalent at the time.

Carroll: It was known to all the writers in Hollywood that everybody was trying to integrate.

All of the networks, all of the -- And that's when Hal wrote 'Mama's Man.'

That became 'Julia.'

So, I came to Hollywood and I listened, and I heard what they hoped to do, hoped to accomplish.

And so, I thought, yeah, this is something new.

I'd like to try this.

First, we got rid of the name... [ Chuckles ] Which is such a stereotypical thought, 'Mama's Man.'

And that's how 'Julia' got born.

Julia: We have dark skin, and people like Mrs. Bennet think that Afro-Americans like you, and me, and Uncle Lou and Aunt Emma, that we're different.

Corey: Yeah! Mrs. Bennett says we move into nice, clean places and make them dirty.

Richardson: For us, it was, 'Finally!'

Because finally we saw a reference of who we were, a reflection of what we see in the mirror every day.

Carroll: Everyone was scared because, um, we were saying to the country, um, we're going to present a very upper-middle-class Black woman, and her major concentration will not be about suffering in the ghetto.

And we don't know if you're going to buy it, but this is what we're going to do.

Julia: Has Mr. Colton told you?

Dr. Chegley: Told me what?

Julia: I'm colored?

Dr. Chegley: What color are you?

Julia: I'm a Negro.

Dr. Chegley: Have you always been a Negro, or are you just trying to be fashionable?

[ She laughs ] Stewart: Diahann Carroll -- she has this quality of refinement that really helps to explain why it is that she was the one who was cast in the role of 'Julia,' this first, you know, uh, television program centered on, you know, a Black woman lead character.

[ Door buzzer ] All: Merry Christmas, Julia!

Julia: Merry Christmas!

Carroll: Julia was a nice lady who had a little boy, lost her husband during the war.

Smart.

Great sense of humor.

She was great fun to play too.

The fact that Julia was a nurse in a huge hospital that had all sorts of people of many races, colors, and... but it was maybe something that the American audience had not, uh, seen before.

Dr. Chegley: And besides, when you go on a trip like that, there are too many things to do to get ready.

There are plane tickets, hotel reservations... Car rental. -Julia: Car rental.

Feldstein: Julia lived in this integrated, middle-class neighborhood in California.

She was really, um, not only integrating the show, but she was integrating the living rooms of the white people who would be watching the show.

Mrs. Bennett: Mrs. Baker, I've been a very stupid woman.

You've opened my eyes.

I hope you can open your heart enough to forgive me.

[ Knocking at door ] Stewart: There was a lot of criticism of the way that the show did not take up social and political issues.

Julia is not shown picketing and protesting.

She's not, you know, putting her son to bed and then going to a Black Panther rally.

Man: I do not object to white people being in the cast.

What I do object to is selecting the Black cast from people who are so white oriented, that everyone has a white mentality.

Woman: Your show is geared to the white audience, with no knowledge of therealness of normal Negro people.

Julia is unreal.

To repeat again, Julia is no Negro woman.

Carroll: Some of the criticism of course was valid, but that's not what we were doing.

And we were of a mind that, that was a different show.

We were allowed to have this show.

We were allowed to put this point of view on the air.

We were allowed to have a comedy about a Black middle-class family.

Stewart: And then, we get into a lot of debates about realism.

You know, like, uh, how -- how much can we expect, you know, white writers, producers, to develop worlds for Black characters, worlds that they don't know?

Foxx: Here's what I said. Now, this is logic to me.

-Carroll: Okay. -Foxx: Here we have a beautiful nurse, wearing a $300 gown.

And I just said, 'She got to be selling dope out the hospital to folk.'

[ Laughter ] [ Applause ] Carroll: You so bad, I love you anyway!

He is just so bad!

I think everyone was very proud that they put 'Julia' together and put it on the air.

And the reception was wonderful, we had great ratings.

Richardson: I thought that 'Julia,' because it was such a popular show, was going to catapult that whole -- whole situation -- the genre of -- of Black women in those professional positions, that you would have seen more of that.

But it didn't happen, you know?

Lewis: In the 1960s, you saw the gates open again, and that was pressure from the NAACP saying, 'You need to see us.'

And the white creators created 'Julia.'

And so, there was a little bit of space.

It did well. People enjoyed it.

There was a little bit of controversy, and the gate shut again.

Berry: The reality is there are not a lot of parts for leading ladies, for women of color.

We really have to get behind thescenes and create these projects and tell our stories for ourselves.

Tyson: We are not just considered actresses.

For instance, I would be up for the same role as Jane Fonda if I were considered an actress rather than a Black actress, which limits my ability to work.

Feldstein: From the start of her career, Cicely Tyson was very, very selective about what parts she would and wouldn't accept.

Her support for civil rights came through the ways in which she performed Black womanhood.

Tyson: I have the reputation in my business for working every few years.

And it's every two or three years when a role comes along that appeals to me, uh, that speaks for me, that deals with what I wouldlike to project to my audiences.

Hopkins: ♪ Will you come by here ♪ Now is the needed time ♪ Oh, now.. Lewis: When I saw 'Sounder' with Cicely Tyson, it changed everything.

It was a beautiful relationship between a Black man and Black woman.

Rebecca: Where was it you went last night, Nathan?

Nathan: I did what I had to do, Rebecca.

Feldstein: She plays the mother in a working-class sharecropping family, set in the Depression.

Sheriff Young: Now you took some food and stuff from Jamie's smokehouse last night.

My deputy and me, we gotta' take you down to the county house.

-Earl: What they doing, Mama?! -Rebecca: Quiet, son! Quiet!

[ Sounder barking ] Feldstein: Her husband is arrested for having stolen ham to feed this hungry family.

And she along with her children get the family through their struggles and work the land while her husband is in jail.

David Lee: Ready to go, Mama!

Rebecca: Well tuck that shirt in, David Lee.

When you get out of that school, you come straight on home, you hear?

Lewis: We got to see them relate to each other in terms of daily struggles.

You know, what it was to feed your family, what it was to connect romantically, what it was to have a community around you.

Rebecca: The two of you could just sit under a shaded tree, drink ice cold whiskey, and shoot the breeze!

Nathan: Well, I hope you told him I's too busy for that kind of stuff?

[ Both laugh ] Lewis: It was Black love.

It was beautiful.

It was political becausewe weren't allowed to have that.

We weren't given the freedom to actually be full human beings, and Cicely Tyson brought that to us.

♪♪ Rebecca Oh, my God!

It's Nathan!

Nathan!

Richardson: She was amazing.

Her running, just,her acting had such breath in it that I think we realized that you could actually blow it out of the water.

Earl: Daddy!

♪♪ Richardson: There's something about us that always made us want to close in.

And it was because of how we had been treated.

Cicely was like, 'Let's open it up!'

Let's break it all open.

Tyson: This happened in Los Angeles, and this was a journalist who said to me, 'I'm glad I saw the movie, Cicely, because I never really thought that a Black man and woman could relate to each other that way.

I thought that the thing that existed between them was just a lust or a sex; that they never really had love.'

And I said, 'You know what you're saying?

You're saying that we're not human beings.

She said, 'The only way I get my education is through the film media, through books, and through one or two Black people that I meet in business.

But I don't really know them,so I don't know their lifestyle.

I don't know what their home life is like.'

Well, in that case, then, it's serving as an education to many whites.

Keys: There's nothing more powerful than being able to speakthe truth of what you're living.

When it's not easy, by the way, to stand for stuff.

To stand up in front of all these people telling you that, you know, 'You shouldn't, you couldn't, you wouldn't.

They'll kill you.

You won't have a career.

You won't feed your family.'

You know, it is not easy.

♪♪ Buckley: My mother realized that she wasn't going to go far in Hollywood, so nightclubs were really where it was going to be for her.

Horne: I had hoped for a while to have my own television series.

But the time wasn't ripe yet for that.

And so, it made me begin to think that probably it would never happen.

Feldstein: She couldn't really advance in Hollywood because she became more increasingly associated with the Left.

And so that provedparticularly problematic for her and she was blacklisted.

Buckley: 'Red Channels' was published by a man who was the biggest black-lister in Hollywood.

And he put out this booklet in which he listed all of the actors and actresses and performers who he thought were Communist sympathizers.

In those days if you were even listed, you were considered a communist.

And she did not make a movie for six years.

The nightclub bosses wanted her off the blacklist.

What you had to do was you hadto write a letter to this union.

This union was mobbed up.

My mother wrote saying she was not a communist and that Paul Robeson had not influenced her politics even though he was a family friend, and that she would not give up speaking out for her race, but certainly would not get involved with any Communist organizations.

And then she had to go and see a man called George Sokolsky in New York, who was a big right-wing columnist.

And he could clear you.

It was all crooked.

He said to her, 'Well, I'm sure these are all your youthful indiscretions, and you're cleared.'

And she got cleared.

She saved her career.

♪♪ Tillet: Abbey Lincoln is a good example of an artist who pays for her political voice and is censored as a result of her deep political engagement.

Kernodle: She makes the controversial album 'Straight Ahead.'

Lincoln: ♪ Straight Ahead ♪ The road keeps winding ♪ Narrow, wet ♪ And dimly lit Kernodle: We have Abbey Lincoln who is projecting to us the anger, the outrage, right, that's been simmering, but she has the audacity to articulate it.

Feldstein: That's an album for which she was criticized a great deal.

A very influential jazz critic for the journal lambasted the album and accused Lincoln of being a 'Professional Negro,' infusing jazz too much with politics and really deriding her for that reason.

Announcer: conducted a roundtable discussion to air the situation.

Much of the following conversation revolved around Gitler's review of Abbey Lincoln's album 'Straight Ahead.'

Lincoln: It's impossible for me to be a professional Negro because I am a Black woman.

Gitler: I meant by that, using the fact that you were a Negro to exploit a career, in particular -- -Lincoln: Exploit a career?

How can I sing as a Black woman, as a Negro, if I don't exploit the fact that I'm a Negro?

Gitler: Yes, but I thought you were overdoing it.

Kernodle: They attack her in a way they cannot attack Max Roach.

Roach: If anybody has a right to exploit the Negro, it's the Negro.

Gitler: I felt she was leaning too much on her negritude in this album.

Kernodle: They attack her in a way that they will not attack a Miles Davis or a John Coltrane.

Lincoln: Everybody is not Black in this society, and the people who are, are the only ones who are qualified to say how it feels.

And I, Abbey Lincoln, sing about what's most important to me.

You know, when I was a Professional Negro, nobody seemed to mind.

I was capitalizing on the fact that I was a Negro and I looked the way Western people expect you to look.

I was not an artist, I had nothing to say.

And as soon as I said, 'I don't want to do this anymore,' they came down on me with all four feet.

Feldstein: And you can see her changed appearance in terms of her commitment to representing herself as a certain kind of Black woman and defining herself as beautiful on her own terms.

Falk: The permed hair and perfectly quaffed do's -- Gone. Gone.

Afros and braids came.

Lincoln: I started to wear my hair natural and that spooked a lot of people.

It's amazing what'll spook people.

They said I was a rebel.

♪ Black is Beautiful ♪ Don't you see?

♪ Black.. ♪♪ ♪ Took a trip to Paris Tillet: The ways in which Black women performers have always had to navigate, push back, redefine a cultural aesthetic tied to their beauty, that's where you can see how politics and racial and gender wars are really being played out.

Lincoln: ♪ Coming home to see the promised land ♪ Falk: Blacks are saying, 'Don't buy Abbey Lincoln records.

Don't listen to her music because she's a troublemaker.'

Because of her hair.

You know?

How ridiculous is that?

You know?

But before you knew anything, everybody was wearing afros.

Lewis: Every time we wear an afro, or every time we wear our hair naturally, it is a huge statement against 400 years of oppression, telling us that that's not beautiful.

Ross: Who is the hair police?

You know, who says that your straight, fine hair is the way that my hair should be?

If it grows from my head a certain way, that's the way it should be.

You know, if I choose to put achemical in it to straighten it, or use a hot comb to straighten it, that's my choice.

Lincoln: ♪ Oh Falk: Abbey is considered by some to be the first artist to wear an afro.

Some people say it's Cicely Tyson.

Some people it's Abbey Lincoln.

Either way, both of them wore afros.

They were the ones that started it.

Jones: Cicely, yet another spectacular hairstyle.

What do you call that?

Tyson: Well, I -- I don't know that this one has any specific name, but my hairdresser, Ouma, refers to it as African hair sculpture.

Jones: I had the great fortune of playing opposite Ms. Tyson in a play called 'The Blacks' by Jean Genet.

Tyson: Oh, my heavens, yes.

Jones: And you had one of the first naturals or Afros then.

-Tyson: Yes. -Jones: But then, you took it into a modern character on television.

Tyson: Yes on television, 'East Side, West Side.'

♪♪ Frieda: Do you have an apprentice program?

Mr. Stone: Why, yes.

Frieda: Could a Negro get into it?

Mr. Stone: If he we're qualified.

Frieda: Could a man with acertificate from a trade school, a registered trade school like this, qualify?

Mr. Stone: This isn't exactly precision instrument.

Jane: But he could get into your training program with that kind of background?

If not, Mr. Stone, maintenance work is all that will ever be open.

Tyson: As a matter of fact, it brought about a great deal of feeling amongst hairdressers because I began to get a lot of mail stating that they were losing their customers because they were beginning to cut off their hair because this actress was quote, 'wearing her hair nappy.'

Jones: It is nappy, right.

Waithe: Her deciding to wear her hair natural, in its natural state was almost a form of protest.

Simone: ♪ Save me ♪ Somebody save me Tillet: Nina Simone, for example, is a progenitor for a kind of Black aesthetic, um, that Black women would really take up in the late 1960s and mid 1970s that we think of as like afros and dashikis -- a Black Power aesthetic.

And so for someone like Nina Simone who was highly conscious of the fact that she was already marginalized because she was a dark brown skinned woman, and then marginalized because her hair wasn't straight, and marginalized because her features didn't fit the kind of stereotype of European beauty.

For her to embrace her beauty, and not just embrace it but also render her beauty as glamorous, was really, really political.

Simone: ♪ Four Negro women ♪ One.. ♪ Each one with a different color ♪ ♪ Each one with a different grade of hair ♪ ♪ And one of the women's hair is like mine ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Each one with a different background ♪ ♪ Four women.. Tillet: Nina Simone composes a song called 'Four Women.'

She was really, really putting forth a narrative of Black women that was broken down by different color categories, as well as different historical conditions.

Simone: ♪ My skin is tan ♪♪ ♪ My hair is fine Kernodle: 'Four Women' is a pivotal song because I think it really brings to the forefront how Black women visualize themselves within this larger narrative of liberation.

Simone: ♪ My skin is black... Kernodle: It looks at how Black women, and their bodies... Simone: ♪ And my arms are long.. Kernodle: ...and their skin color has been used to shape their lives.

Simone: ♪ And my hair is like wool Kernodle: But it is also the transformation of the word 'Black' from something that was seen as an insult to something that is about empowerment.

Simone: ♪ Strong enough to take all the pain ♪ ♪ That's been inflicted ♪ Again and again and again and again ♪ Kernodle: Black radio refused to play that particular song, saying that Nina Simone is perpetuating racism because of her advancement of a conversation about colorism, and how that impacted Black women.

Simone: ♪ My skin is brown Tillet: And then also I think it becomes the blueprint for burgeoning generation of Black feminist writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange.

They all say that Nina Simone kind of gave them permission to be the kind of writers that they are.

Toni Morrison even says Nina Simone saved our lives.

So, 'Four Women' and Nina Simone's really complicated discussion of color, and gender, and race in that song; you can think of it as a precursor to, um, Toni Morrison's 1970 novel 'The Bluest Eye,' her debut novel.

Waithe: Even though I'm not a musician, her music is very influential in how I want to tell stories, and how I want to make art, because she knew that every time she sat down at a piano or stepped in front of a microphone, it was an opportunity to... to really speak to her community.

And yes, she was speaking to the world, but she was also speaking specifically to us as a people.

Kernodle: Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln -- they were both situating their bodies and their voices in this spectrum of resistance culture.

Falk: Abbey, she lost a lot of work because of that.

She really did. I mean, it, uh... That transformation hit her in the wallet.

And, you know, because of that, Abbey couldn't get another record deal for a long time.

It was about 12 or 13 years.

Kernodle: She actually just leaves that part of her life behind, in terms of recording studio albums, right, and begins to focus on activism and acting.

♪♪ Feldstein: She was in the independent, very low budget film, 'Nothing but a Man.'

♪♪ Duff: It ain't gonna be easy, okay?

But it's going to be alright.

Falk: It's a love story.

Blue collar guy falls in love with a preacher's daughter, who's a schoolteacher.

This love helps him move forward.

He truly becomes a man.

Josie: How would you like to have a baby, Duff?

Duff: Huh? You jivin' me?

Josie: Well, I haven't come around.

Duff: Wow.

Ain't that somethin'. Josie: We'll be alright.

Falk: Abbey was very proud of that film.

Albertson: I saw this film and I saw subsequent appearances.

Uh, I was just convinced that -- that you were it.

You were -- you were going to be up there on top.

-Lincoln: Mm-hmm. -Albertson: And uh, and it didn't happen, and-- Lincoln: It hasn't happened for anybody who is female and Black on stage.

A lot of women would like to be actresses, and to work all the time in film.

Including Diana Ross, and Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee.

You know, Dorothy Dandridge passed away waiting for a film.

It's why I sing.

Because we have a war here in this country.

It's for who's going to be on top.

And the Black woman has to suffer.

I know that. She always has.

Simone: Are you ready, Black people?

Are you ready, Black people?

[ Cheers and applause ] Are you ready to call the wrath of Black gods... Black magic... to do your bidding?

Tillet: The Harlem Cultural Festival took place in 1969.

It's kind of famously dubbed 'Black Woodstock,' but Nina Simone stands outas like the artist that everyone was paying attention to.

Simone: Are you ready to smash white things?

[ Cheers and applause ] To burn buildings -- are you ready?

Are you really, really, really, ready?

Tillet: She's reciting radical Black nationalist poetry, galvanizing the crowd to kind of believe in their Blackness and to harness the power of the Black Power movement.

Stewart: During the late 1960s, there is a rising militancy.

Cleaver: The Black Panther Party overlooks nothing, is afraid of nothing, and is able to resolve the major contradiction of our time.

Tillet: The Black Power Movement and the Black Panther Party have risen.

Davis: If keeping my job means that I have to make any compromises in the liberation struggle in this country, then I'll gladly leave my job.

Tillet: And the women's liberation movement is in full bloom.

Crowd: Bring him down! Bring him down!

Bring him down! Bring him down!

Stewart: And so there's a desire to see a different kind of Black representation.

Woman: He has to see the people that stays here.

Her, me, her, and the people out here.

Stewart: There is an increasing appetite for characters on screen who are willing to fight for themselves and for their communities.

Tillet: And you have these films, we know as the Blaxploitation film genre.

♪♪ Stewart: Blaxploitation is one of, I think, the most fascinating chapters in American film history, because Black people saved the film industry.

Shaft: Name's John Shaft.

Stewart: Hollywood studios weresuffering because of television, because of white flight to suburbs.

So, the industry picks up on the fact that if we make filmsthat are about Black characters, that tell Black stories, that we can make some pretty big and quick money in these downtown theaters, and that's exactly what happened.

♪♪ Simonpillai: Some of the criticism that leaders of the civil rights era got was that they did not represent all Black people.

They did not represent the Black people of the street.

So, you have something like Blaxploitation which is about that.

-Hutch: ♪ Foxy Lady -Narrator: Pam Grier -- that one-chick hit squad who creamed you as Coffy is back to do a job on the mob as Foxy Brown.

Foxy: You tell me who you want done, and I'll do the hell out of him.

Narrator: A chick with drive who don't take no jive.

'Foxy Brown.'

Tillet: Pam Grier becomes the most visible, uh, female face in the Blaxploitation genre.

She's the person who's fighting back against authority, and she's taking down the man.

Foxy: Ooh, you son of a bitch!

You had to tell them, didn't you?

[ Gunshot, woman screams ] Good: The first time I saw Pam Grier on screen, I, for lack of a better word, I was in awe.

Link: What are you trying to do, kill me?

Foxy: I damn well ought to, you rotten bastard!

And if I don't, you better thank the Lord you're my brother 'cause there's no other reason.

Good: She was just so powerful and so intentional, and so unapologetic, and so sexy, and, um so badass.

Link: I don't know what you talkin' about.

Agh!

Foxy: Now, I only got so much control.

And I'm liable to put one of these right between your eyes, no matter what Mama'd say.

Good: A lot of times you'd see movies and women are always the damsel in distress.

She's never the hero.

She's never the one who's, you know, is beating someone up and getting whatever needs to be done.

So for me, the first time that I saw her in Foxy Brown, I was just like, 'Who is this woman?'

Grier: I'm OG Pam Grier.

The ass-kicking roles, it comes from my own empowerment.

Grover: Wait! Wait!

What do you want to go and do this for?

Why?! Why?

Look here, I got your fix.

Don't you want your fix? -Coffy: No!

Tillet: The Black Panther Party is by then majority women.

So, she's really representing all these different movements in which Black women's power isbeing harnessed for public good.

Grier: I had such a positive response from the Black Panthers.

They -- it was -- they were so supportive because the Black Panthers allowed women to be fighters and warriors.

All: ♪ The Revolution has come ♪ Off the pigs!

♪ Revolution has come ♪ Off the pigs!

Newton: We make no distinction whatsoever.

Women hold, uh, ranking positions in the party.

They are all military trained.

All: ♪ No more brothers in jail ♪ Off the pigs!

Dawes: What is it you really want?

-Foxy: Justice. -Dawes: For whom, your brother?

Foxy: Why not?

It could be your brother too.

Or your sister, or your children.

I want justice for all of them.

Good: She was a vigilante.

She was someone who was like, 'Justice for the people.'

Someone who protected the underdog.

Ross: As much as I wanted to be like Cicely Tyson, I wanted to be Pam Grier, you know, because she was the, you know, the epitome of the gorgeous Black woman who wasn't gon' take any [bleep] Tyson: The thing that upsets me most about those films is that they are shown all over the world.

And if there is no other way of entertaining whites... Dolemite: Girls, this mother[bleep] got rhythm.

Tyson: This is the opinion that they have of us.

And what we have to do is balance the scale so people will get a realistic view of what we're like.

♪♪ Tillet: Blaxploitation films have a complicated history.

On one hand, they are seen as these films with a really important political message.

Michael: But, I don't know. Vigilante justice?

Foxy: It's as American as apple pie.

Tillet: But they're also seen as, you know, sometimes troubling around what kind of images they were putting forth.

King George: Now look, I want you to meet somebody.

This here is, uh, Mystique.

Tyson: They're definitely exploitation of Blacks.

Mystique: Hmm, quite an assortment you have here, man.

Tyson: Simply because they do not project a real slice of Black life.

They say that we're all whores, we're all drug users, we're all drug pushers.

We're con men, we're super studs.

We're -- we're just unreal!

Coffy: This is the end of your rotten life, you mother[bleep] dope pusher.

[ Shotgun blast ] Grier: My agents are calling me, and I got a three-picture deal.

Stewart: She was like this extraordinary sex symbol.

She's pushing so hard against the history of limitation on the way that Black women could express their sexuality on screen and off screen.

Simonpillai: This is the first time we're really seeing Black actors on screen being able to own their sexuality, 'cause that didn't happen with Sidney Poitier.

That didn't happen with Harry Belafonte.

They had to be neutered for white audiences.

Grier: The '70s really was the basic rewards for the '50s and '60s political gains.

So, we went crazy with music,and afros, and hair, and we were part of the sexual movement and the women's movement.

My movies were doing so well, the audiences would see the movie three and four times, and they were staying in the theatres too long, which caused, you know, the majors to get upset.

And so, that's when they started the multi-theaters, because one theater wasn't enough.

♪♪ Jackson: It let Hollywood know that there was an audience for, you know, hot, Black women that would, you know, spend their money to go in there, sit in the theater and watch them.

Foxy: Why don't we go and, uh, adjudicate this matter in chambers, as they say, and maybe we canmake a few motions or something?

Jackson: We also found out Black women are very vindictive, you know?

And when revenge is in play, they get revenge, which is awesome.

Man: This ain't gonna hurt!

Jackson: They also found out that they were professional and able to carry a story line, and were important in terms of how we wanted to perceive ourselves on screen.

Man: I got her, get the other one!

-[ Man screams ] -Man: Get 'er!

Tarantino: Pam's star was an action female hero.

She really owned the spot for women in the '70s with those films that America had really never seen before or since.

-Steve: Bunyon! -Bunyon: Ah!

Grier: It was fun!

Just go out, jump around, fall off buildings into bags.

You know, I love flying, I love scuba diving, I love, you know, being outdoors, I love action.

And a lot of women said, 'Oh, my God, my daughter is so inspired.'

Sheba: Have I bruised your masculinity?

Shark: You're sexy.

Grier: It wasn't called Blaxploitation until a woman walked in the shoes of a man.

Shark: I ought to take you.

Sheba: Try me.

Grier: And a woman whistled at a man's behind in some tight pants.

And a woman flirted, and a woman held a gun, and she did what men did, then it's exploitation -- but it wasn't.

It was what, from a woman's perspective, liberation.

I called it Black liberation.

Elias: What, are you crazy?

Dawes: He's ready sister.

Elias: No, you...! Berry: I really understandhow important those movies were, especially for a Black artist.

We had no opportunities.

Those were our opportunities, and I know during the time they took a lot of hits.

People today still get caught in their feelings about those movies, but the reality is, as artists we needed outlets.

Director: Cut! Hold on the top!

Roll it! Action!

Horne: So, we had to take thebitter with the sweet, you know?

We had to take the exploitation because it employed a lot of actors in Hollywood wishing they had something to do.

Blacula: Ah!

Waithe: If Blaxploitation gives us Pam Grier, I'll take it any day.

[ Applause ] Interviewer: I'm not going to deal with any of the criticisms of 'Sounder,' but I'm going to deal with awards.

Do you think it would be of any significant value, say you were to win an Academy Award say for your portrayal of Rebecca?

Tyson: Well I overheard severaltimes of producers and directors say, uh, 'Blacks don't want to see themselves that way.'

Well, I was incensed because, you know, my whole feeling is, let me make my decisions about what I want to see.

And we were not given a choice.

We were given one specific type of film and that was all.

Nobody said, 'Well, this is 'Sounder', and this is whatever the other film is.'

You have your choice.

I demand a choice as a human being.

And I think that the success of 'Sounder' has proven them wrong so far.

And I hope that it will continue to do so.

Now, if I win it, it will be the first time in the history of the Academy that a Black woman wins the award.

Hackman: The truly talented ladies nominated for Best Performance by an Actress are: Welch: Liza Minnelli in 'Cabaret.'

Hackman: Diana Ross in 'Lady Sings the Blues.'

Welch: Maggie Smith in 'Travels with My Aunt.'

Hackman: Cicely Tyson in 'Sounder.'

Welch: Liv Ullman in 'The Emigrants.'

Hackman: And the winner is... Welch: I hope they haven't got a cause.

Hackman: Liza Minnelli!

[ Applause ] Feldstein: Cicely Tyson has a series of really significant roles in the 1970s.

The first is in the film 'Sounder,' which comes out in 1972.

The second is in the television film, 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,' which comes out in 1974.

And then she has a small but quite significant role in the opening episode of the television mini-series, 'Roots,' in 1976.

Binta: We have a very strong son.

Feldstein: All of these productions were critical, and commercial successes.

Quentin: I understand you were a slave.

Feldstein: These productions tell stories of African American history.

Jane: Lots of peoples were slaves.

Quentin: Well, I -- I thought maybe you could tell me what things were like in those days.

Feldstein: And she portrays Black women who are... Jane: In those days... Feldstein: ...poor yet dignified.

Hard-working, committed to family, who are helping the race survive.

Tyson: I thought it was time for the Black woman to appear on the screen as a human being, rather than as a Barbie doll, a sex symbol, or addict, all of the things that we have been forced to deal with in the past few years in films.

Feldstein: Cicely Tyson's roles really affirmed the strength, and the power, and the love that were central to Black families, and really pushed back against a widespread demonization that circulated about Black families since 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was then assistant secretary of labor, wrote what became known as 'The Moynihan Report.'

This was a document in which he was trying to diagnose what was wrong with Black families.

Moynihan argued that the main problems that Black families were facing had to do with matriarchal households in which mothers were too strong and were the cause of a lot of dysfunctional behavior.

Paul: Ma! Ma! The social worker's here!

Claudine: Oh [bleep]! Feldstein: The Moynihan report contributed to critiques of welfare, saying that Black women were promiscuous... Claudine: Honey, get rid of the TV and hide!

Feldstein: ...and trying to scam the government and just trying to get more and more money from the federal government so that they wouldn't have to work.

Miss Kabak: So, you're the gentleman that's been keeping company here.

Feldstein: The movie 'Claudine' was a direct assault on the underlying logic of 'The Moynihan Report,' and on the welfare system itself, and the ways in which it policed and sought to control Black women's reproductive lives as well as their work lives.

Miss Kabak: But the Welfare is supporting Mrs. Price.

Claudine: Supportin'? Supportin' [bleep]! He gave me this. He gave me this.

Yes, he gave it to me.

And he gave me this.

Now we have to hide this [bleep] Do you believe -- yes, he gave me this.

We have to hide this.

Lurlene: He gave us this too, but it don't work.

Claudine: That's right, and I've got to hide my man in the toilet.

Miss Kabak, do you hide your man in the toilet?

Stewart: In 'Claudine,' Diahann Carroll plays a welfare mother living in Harlem.

She's got this kind of like slew of children, and she's engaged with the realstruggle with the welfare state.

Feldstein: The film exposes the inequities of the welfare system.

Claudine: What is this? Am I not supposed to see a man?

What am I? A damn nun?

Miss Kabak: No, but if you've been sleeping with a man and he's been giving you things, I'm sorry, but I have to know.

Claudine: Do you sleep with a man?

Miss Kabak: Now that's none of your business!

Claudine: It's none of your business either.

Miss Kabak: You're wrong, Mrs. Price!

It is our business!

Waithe: 'Claudine' to me is such an important piece on cinema just because of how grounded it is in the story telling, in the fabric of it, and the -- the -- the humanity in it.

And I think that's because James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll are such dignified people that they can't help but bring dignity to these roles and these characters.

Miss Kabak: We'd love to see you get married.

Roop: Yeah, I'm hip you would!

It would take the government off the hook and put me on.

Stewart: When Diahann Carroll makes 'Claudine,' in many ways, it seems as though she's trying to respond to some of the criticism that she received for 'Julia.'

Playing a welfare mother, in Harlem, rendering some of the challenges that poor women face.

Claudine: Fighting! Beating up on somebody!

That makes you a man, right?

Screwing all the broads and making babies, that makes you a man! Big man!

Stewart: She wanted to demonstrate to the public that she had the capacity to stretch in that way, but then also wanting to be responsive to the frustrations of the Black community with regard to a kind of whitewashing of Black characters in media.

Carroll: I loved doing 'Claudine.'

It was demanding to reach a little further and away from glamour.

Being flirted with by someone that I like very much, and how do I hold that in place while raising my children?

Lemmon: Diahann Carroll for 'Claudine.'

And Faye Dunaway for 'Chinatown'... Valerie Perrine for 'Lenny.'

Gena Rowlands for 'A Woman Under the Influence.'

And the winner is... Ellen Burstyn in 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.'

Carroll: It was, uh, fabulous to learn that I had been nominated.

It was almost unbelievable in the beginning.

There's so few Black actors, actresses, who were nominated ever, and I felt it was a blessing from above.

I am bursting with pride because I think maybe this is the beginning of roles that have a little more dimension than we've been exposed to before.

I hope so.

Stewart: Well, after 'Claudine,' we don't see Diahann Carroll on screen for a long time.

She is victim of a larger kind of pullback on Black representation in film that happens after the fall of the so-called Blaxploitation cycle as Hollywood interest in serving Black audiences began to wane in the mid to late 1970s.

She comes up again in the amazing role of Dominique Deveraux on 'Dynasty' in the 1980s.

Carroll: I saw Jane Wyman, who was nasty and mean and rich and powerful.

And I saw Joan Collins, who was nasty and mean and rich and powerful.

And I said, 'You know what I want to be?

I want to be nasty, and mean, and rich, and powerful!'

Right? What's wrong with that?

Rivers: That's the American Dream!

Carroll: That's the American Dream!

Rivers: Absolutely! Absolutely!

Concierge: Welcome to La Mirage, Miss...? -Dominique: Deveraux. -Concierge: Let's see.

Yes, we have a beautiful junior suite ready for you on the second floor.

Dominique: Junior suite?

I specifically asked for a two-bedroom suite.

I don't sleep in my clothes, nor do I sleep with them.

I require one bedroom for my wardrobe and one for myself.

Carroll: Dominique Deveraux is really a white man.

She lives in that world and it's primarily about money.

Dominique: Do your lies never stop?

Alexis: [Scoffs] Are you calling me a liar?! Oh, I find that very amusing.

Well, I suggest that you check it out with Garrett Boydston yourself because he gives a new meaning to the word liar.

-Dominique: Alexis? -Alexis: Yes.

Dominique: I didn't thank you for your present.

[ Alexis gasps ] Carroll: I wanted the audience to say, 'Who is this mean woman?'

I didn't want to like my children; I didn't want to have a good relationship with my husband.

I thought it was nice for a change to see someone who was not wonderful who was Black.

♪♪ Waithe: When we tell our stories, we get to be the hero.

And, but we also get to be the villain, and I think both are important.

Okoye: You are not fit to be a king!

[ Grunting ] ♪♪ Grier: The studios wanted me todo the same thing, be redundant.

I said, 'I can't.'

I don't want to bore my audience, I got to give them something different, something that shows that we can do anything.

I really wanted to bring the Dorothy Dandridge story to screen, but then the studios were saying, 'If no one knows of her, then no one's going to come.'

So, okay, next.

Mary Fields, the first Black female stagecoach driver.

It's action -- we make it like a Clint Eastwood movie.

'Good, Bad, and the Ugly.'

'Oh, that sounds kind of -- nah, no one's going to believe that there's a Black female stagecoach driver.'

We went through Ella Fitzgerald, women's jazz bands, women airline pilots.

You know, we went to all of them who have my catalogue, who produced for me.

And they said, 'No, that's -- keep doing what you're doing.'

Friday: We are going to see the senator.

I want to ask him a few questions, and I want some no-jive answers.

Colt: To what?

Friday: To where are all the Black leaders?

Ross: I was happy to see Pam Grier make it out of, you know, the Blaxploitation section of film.

Mary: We're going to have a baby.

Wendell: That's good.

Mary: You're not mad, are you?

Wendell: I love you, Mary.

Jackie: If you had the chance to walk away with a half million dollars, would you take it?

Ross: To have Quentin Tarantino make a film with her, that was the epitome right there 'cause she showed herself to... to carry this film, to play this part.

Stewart: When Quentin Tarantino does his homage to Pam Grier in the film 'Jackie Brown,' that gives us a sense of how important it is to recognize that these films... Jackie: Are you scared of me?

Stewart: ...have an impact beyond the audiences that they were primarily made for.

It also kind of gives us a sense of what these actors have the capacity to do.

Louise: You think you're smart! Huh?

Do you? Do you?

Stewart: One wonders, you know, what could've happened if she was able to kind of demonstrate that in a larger body of work.

Crowe: And the Oscar goes to... Halle Berry in 'Monster's Ball.'

[ Cheers and applause ] Announcer: This is the first Oscar for Halle Berry.

Berry: I am an actress who now lives and works in an industry that was far better than when I started 20 years ago.

This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll.

It's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.

But I've struggled since I won that Academy Award to back that up, because there's just a lack of material and roles for women like me.

You know, we celebrate the Black stories that we have, but if you had any idea how many people try after year after year after year and fail, I think it would be staggering.

Jackson: It's changed so much.

I mean, Hattie McDaniel went to the Oscars and they sat her by the kitchen, and she won.

You know, now, if I go to the Oscars, they put me in the front row.

They won't put me by the kitchen.

It doesn't mean they don't feel the same way.

♪♪ Stewart: Filmmaking has been a nepotistic profession.

If you're already sort of inside of the network, then you have opportunities.

And of course, this means that African Americans have had a tremendously difficult time breaking into the industry.

Many of the great Black writers who were interested in Hollywood.

Zora Neale Hurston wanted to write for film.

Langston Hughes wanted to write for film.

Waithe: You don't really have a choice, do you?

You don't really got no choice though, do you?

Matsoukas: And take out, 'Y'all the ones who killed the cop.'

Waithe: I always wanted to be a television writer.

Adding a voice and being a part of a sea of voices on a TV show.

But then as I got older, I started to dream bigger.

You know, when I saw people like Shonda Rhimes, and Debbie Allen, I wanted to be calling the shots, and so I was able to dream a bigger dream because of them.

I was very impacted by 'A Different World.'

And it was a great moment for me when, uh, Jada Pinkett's character was introduced on 'A Different World,' and her name was Lena James, and she was named for Lena Horne, and Lena Horne cameand did a guest spot on the show and it felt like a sign that I was on the right path.

Freddie: Lena's in the building!

Lena's in the building!

-Davenport: Lena? -Freddie: Oh!

[ Cheers and applause ] Gilbert-Wayne: I'm Whitley Gilbert-Wayne, the head of the student welcoming committee, Ms. Horne.

James: Honey get up off the floor.

I'm not the Queen of England.

James: Hi, my name is Lena, and I'm so proud to be named after you.

-Horne: Thank you. -Man: And you're still as beautiful as my father said. -Horne: Oh, please.

♪♪ Stewart: It's absolutely crucial to have more artists of color working behind the camera who can reflect the broad experiences of people of color.

Officer: Get on the ground now! Get on the ground!

Stewart: And ofAfrican Americans in particular.

Waithe: Black storytellers have a right to tell their story.

Uh, 'Pariah' is through the lens of Dee Rees.

'Twenties' is through the lens of me.

'I May Destroy' you is through the lens of Michaela.

'Insecure' is through the lens of Issa Rae.

Rae: I know this sounds bad, but it's actually really good.

Melina: Cut! Close up!

Grier: The exposure of art transforms people; reaches into you and can change you.

Carroll: It's exciting to watch Black women in the practical side of business today.

The words were not even in our sentences when I was coming along.

Keys: We want to see truth, we want to see a variety of it, and we're going to have to continue to fight for it, by the way.

Tyson: Next month, on December 19th... ♪♪ I'm going to be 94 years old.

[ Cheers and applause ] This is the culmination of all those years of have and have-not.

Simone: ♪ Wish I knew how ♪ It would feel to be free Waithe: All of these women knew that they were doing it for those that were coming behind them -- that we would be freer than they would be.

Horne: The kind of strength that these young people have is so fearless that it's so strong and so beautiful.

Waithe: And what we do with that freedom is very important, because we need to free up those that come after us as well.

Tillet: Black women artists mustered the courage to use their platform to make a difference and they're really carrying the torch.

Keys: We are artists!

We are activists!

We are entrepreneurs!

We rise!

Simone: ♪ I found out ♪ How it feels ♪ I know how it feels to be free ♪ ♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

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