Two films in the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival celebrate African American women trailblazers Misty Copeland of the contemporary ballet world and Constance Baker Motley of the political world of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I look forward to the day when there is no need for “trailblazers” among African American women because their presence in most every area of society will just be commonplace.
Until then, we can be inspired by these women and what they have accomplished. In the case of Misty Copeland, she is only the third African American female soloist with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and the first in two decades. She was the first African American woman in a major ballet company to play the title role in “The Firebird” and will play Juliet in ABT’s season this summer at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Now, Misty is an author, has been a judge on the television show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and was just named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people. Adding to that list of accomplishments is becoming the subject of the documentary by filmmaker Nelson George called “A Ballerina’s Tale,” which was screened at the Tribeca Festival.
The film is an interesting portrait of not just Misty but of the history of ballet as a European art form that has been dominated by Caucasians. It also shows the brutality of the art form, as Misty dances through a horrible injury that threatens her career.
“The Trials of Constance Baker Motley” is a documentary short that makes sure we won’t forget the accomplishments of this great woman who was a civil rights activist, a senator, a judge, and Borough President of Manhattan at a time when few African American women were in any kind of position of power. She was the first African American federal judge and the first female Manhattan Borough President.
Ms. Motley passed away in 2005, so this inspiring portrait by R.E. Rodgers uses archival footage and interviews with people who knew her to tell her story.