Black lives matter. And 15-Time Grammy Winner Alicia Keys knows it so well, she executive produced How It Feels to Be Free (PBS Distribution), an essential documentary that takes an unprecedented look at the intersection of African American women artists, politics and entertainment and tells the story of how six trailblazing performers—Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier—changed American culture through their films, fashion, music and politics while challenged by entertainment industry deeply complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes, and transformed themselves and their audiences in the process.
The film features interviews and archival performances with all six women, as well as original conversations with contemporary artists influenced by them, including Keys, Halle Berry, Lena Waithe, Meagan Good, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson and other luminaries, as well as family members, including Horne’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley.
Based on the book How It Feels To Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement by Ruth Feldstein, the film highlights how each woman — singer, dancer and actress Lena Horne; jazz vocalist, songwriter and actress Abbey Lincoln; Tony-winning actress, singer and model Diahann Carroll; jazz, blues and folk singer Nina Simone; actress and model Cicely Tyson; and actress Pam Grier — harnessed their celebrity to advance the civil rights movement.
“These revolutionary Black women embody stories of courage, resilience and heroism. They fought for representation and economic, social and political equality through their artistry and activism,” said Michael Kantor, American Masters series executive producer. “We are proud to share the stories of how each left an indelible mark on our culture and inspired a new generation.”
Executive producer Alicia Keys adds, “I am proud to be a part of such a meaningful, important project. Art is the most powerful medium on the planet, and I continue to be inspired by and learn from these powerful, brave and stereotype-shattering women who leveraged their success as artists to fearlessly stand up against racism, sexism, exclusion and harassment. I honor their courage by celebrating their stories and continuing the work they started.”