Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Lorraine Hansberry Documentary

A RAISIN IN THE SUN, showing us the life of a modern Black American family in the segregated Chicago area, premiered on Broadway on March 11, 1959.  The Younger Family lives in a cramped apartment and longs for a better life.  A life in a house with a backyard.  With the help of some expected insurance money, that dream could come true.  The stage production was named the Best Play of 1959 by the New York Drama Critics Circle.  A RAISIN IN THE SUN got four Tony nominations.  Sidney Poitier was nominated for Best Actor.  Claudia McNeil was nominated for Best Actress.  Lloyd Richards was nominated for Best Director.  The production, the work of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, was nominated for Best Play.  She was the first African American woman to write a play that was performed on Broadway.
At 29, Ms. Hansberry became the youngest playwright to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.  Lorraine Hansberry wrote the screenplay adaptation of her play and the original cast members recreated their roles in the 1961 movie.
A few years ago, I had the great privilege to tape an interview of Louis Gossett, Jr., winner of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, in his home for a film review & interview show TV pilot.  Mr. Gossett was in the original Broadway cast of A RAISIN IN THE SUN with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee.  He's also with them in the 1961 film.
The first African American male to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Gossett got the award for 1982's AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN starring Richard Gere.
I feel that the life of Lorraine Hansberry has the right stuff for a good biopic.  I asked him who should play Lorraine Hansberry.  His answer came quicker than our next heartbeats.

"Taraji P. Henson," he declared.  "Taraji P. Henson."
In June, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) celebrated Pride Month with a spotlight on Gay Hollywood History.  Entertainment journalist Dave Karger hosted.  There were movies starring Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Clifton Webb and openly lesbian actress Linda Hunt.  There were films based on plays written by Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and Harvey Fierstein.

I would have included 1961's A RAISIN IN THE SUN.

The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival starts on September 7th and will screen a documentary about the late Lorraine Hansberry.  The festival release includes this info about the feature:
"...a documentary about black writer, feminist, lesbian and outspoken trailblazer at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Lorraine Hansberry...This is the first feature documentary on Hansberry."
Hansberry protested the McCarthy Era execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  (The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg is a character in Tony Kushner's acclaimed play, ANGELS IN AMERICA.)  She was an activist for gay rights before the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 in New York City.  One of her dearest friends was fellow writer and activist, James Baldwin.
Playwright, screenwriter, activist Lorraine Hansberry died of cancer in 1965.  She was 34.
For  more information on the film festival, go to

The name of the documentary is SIGHTED EYES/FEELING HEART.  Tracey Heather Strain is the director.  Chiz Schultz is Executive Producer.  I've interviewed Chiz on national TV.  He's a lovely man with quite a history.  He was on the TONIGHT Show production team in the 1960s when the show was originally broadcast from New York City.  He was present to help Harry Belafonte in early 1968 the week that Johnny Carson was on vacation and Belafonte was substitute host.  Belafonte battled NBC network brass and booked Dr. Martin Luther King as a TONIGHT Show guest that week. Chiz was a producer on the 1970 film, THE ANGEL LEVINE, starring Harry Belafonte and Zero Mostel.  He was also a producer on Norman Jewison's A SOLDIER'S STORY, Oscar nominee for the Best Picture of 1984.

I hope Tracey Heather Strain's documentary gets a terrific reception at TIFF.

If A RAISIN IN THE SUN original Broadway cast member Lou Gossett feels that Taraji P. Henson should be playwright Lorraine Hansberry in a biopic, that's good enough for me.  And hopefully it would be good enough for Hollywood.

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