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Parents' Guide to

How It Feels to Be Free

By Marina Gordon, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Clear-eyed docu celebrates talented women facing racism.

TV PBS Educational 2021
How It Feels to Be Free Poster Image

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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.

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