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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
The documentary explores the influence that one person can exert over entrenched inequalities, as well as the reality that change is often incremental. The film, music, and TV industries are shown to be complicit in maintaining the status quo of racial stereotypes, often while claiming to change with the times.
Positive Role Models
All of the women profiled in the documentary are dedicated to both their craft and their activism.
Violence & Scariness
The murders of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. are mentioned as touchstones, and we see unsettling images from the 1960s (e.g., of white people yelling at Black students). The section on Pam Grier's movies has fight scenes and a man on the losing end of a plane propeller.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's just some kissing and sexualized imagery from the '70s Blaxploitation movies and posters.
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There's no swearing of note in the documentary, but as it covers the period from the 1930s to the present, we see the evolving language around the identity of Black Americans.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lots of cigarette smoking because many clips are from the 1930s through the '70s. Drinking is also depicted and referenced.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that How It Feels To Be Free is a documentary that briefly explores how six Black women -- Lena Horne, Cicely Tyson, Nina Simone, Pam Grier, Abbey Lincoln, and Diahann Carroll -- combined their artistic endevours with activism and inspired future generations. The most controversial word spoken is "goddam" (which was censored in 1964 when Simone released "Mississippi Goddam"), and outdated terms for Black people are used regularly throughout the series. There are some violent scenes from the 1960s civil rights movement and somewhat cartoonish violence in Pam Grier's movies.
Is It Any Good?
Each of the women profiled here is worthy of a full-length documentary, but seeing them together gives viewers a primer on their impact on both entertainment and the social movements of their times. Viewers familiar with the careers of the six performers in How It Feels To Be Free will likely see them anew in the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Others who may not know the women's stories will marvel at their determination, talent, and influence.
Some viewers may be tempted to say "so much has changed," and in ways much has. Lena Horne, for example, was among the earliest Black actors signed to a long-term studio contract, but after only two speaking parts and expectations that she "pass" as Latina in the 1940s, MGM relegated Horne to singing roles that could be edited out for Southern markets that refused to show a movie with a Black actor who wasn't playing a servant. Yet 80 years later there's been just one Black Best Actress Oscar winner (Halle Berry, who talks in the documentary about the debt she owes to the women covered here). It's particularly poignant to review Cicely Tyson's lengthy career; she died at 96 just days after How It Feels To Be Free was released, and she worked right up to the end.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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