ABOVE PHOTO: Lorraine Hansberry leans over her typewriter in her Greenwich Village apartment on Bleecker Street during her April 1959 photoshoot for Vogue. (Photo by David Attie.)
On March 11, 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” opened on Broadway and changed the face of American theater forever. Depicting the limitations of the American dream through the lives of a Black family on Chicago’s South Side, the play’s richly drawn characters and unprecedented subject matter attracted record crowds and earned it the coveted top prize from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. But while the play is universally seen as a groundbreaking work of art, the fascinating story of Hansberry’s life is far less well known.
In the new feature-length documentary, “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” award-winning filmmaker Tracy Heather Strain examines Hansberry’s life and work using a remarkable collection of archival footage, home movies, rare photos and unpublished documents. Granted access to materials from the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust, and including interviews with her family, friends and colleagues, Strain explores the full scope of the author’s history for the very first time.
Narrated by award-winning actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and featuring the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose as Hansberry, “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” is filled with insightful on-camera interviews with those who knew her best and rare archival material, creating a nuanced portrait of an activist and artist whose words and ideas are as relevant today as they were when she first wrote them.
From growing up in the segregated city of Chicago in the 1930s, to her work as a radical journalist in Harlem in the 1950s — which brought her to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI — to the moment when she directly confronted Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the film illustrates Hansberry’s unique connection to each of the major social and political movements of her era. The result is a timely and revealing portrait of an activist and artist whose popular recognition has — until now — remained long overdue.
Featuring interviews with Hollywood legends such as Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, and Louis Gossett Jr., who share their personal memories collaborating with Hansberry, “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” offers an intimate and powerful look at a woman who was, as Poitier says in the film, “reaching into the essence of who we were, who we are, and where we came from.”
This documentary is part of American Masters’ Inspiring Woman online campaign and will premiere in 2018 on PBS.
“Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” is a production of Lorraine Hansberry Documentary Project, LLC in association with The Film Posse, Chiz Schultz Inc., and American Masters Pictures. Narrator: LaTanya Richardson Jackson. Voice of Lorraine Hansberry: Anika Noni Rose. Lorraine Hansberry: Alexandria King. In co-production with Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Black Public Media with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major support from National Endowment for the Humanities, Ford Foundation/JustFilms, National Endowment for the Arts, LEF Foundation, New York Community Trust, and Illinois Humanities Council. Fiscal sponsors: Filmmakers Collaborative (MA) and Calliope Creative Foundation. Editors: Randall MacLowry and Chad Ervin. Original music: Don Byron. Cinematographers: Jonathan Weaver, Austin de Besche, Nikki Bramley, Rick Butler, and Keith Walker. Sound recordists: J.T. Takagi, Susan Bryant, Alexandra Baltarzuk, Claudia Katayanagi, Richard K. Pooler, Ron Thompson, and John O’Connor. Design: Michael Frederick and Aaron D. Nee. Animation: Alisa Placas Frutman, Conor Collier, John M. Nee, Jonathan Nee, and Sam Nee. Special Consultant: Joi Gresham. Production Assistants: Abbi Sauro and Meredith Gabrilska. Coordinating Producer: Julie Rosenberg. Consulting Producer: Jamila Wignot. Associate Producer: Rebecca Taylor. Executive Producers: Chiz Schultz, Michael Kantor, Sally Jo Fifer, and Jacquie Jones. Produced by Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry. Written and Directed by Tracy Heather Strain.