Sighted Eyes Feeling Heart Review

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Sighted Eyes Feeling Heart Review
Posted by Kelisha Graves

January 19, 2018

PBS American Masters will premiere Sighted Eyes | Feeling Heart (SEFH), a feature length documentary on the life of the iconic playwright, communist, feminist, lesbian, and outspoken trailblazer Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun). The documentary premieres nationwide Friday, January 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will be available to stream the following day via pbs.org/americanmasters and PBS apps.

Artist – Intellectual – Activist. Young – Gifted – Black.

She was Negro, she was woman, and she was thoroughly irrepressible. In watching the Lorraine Hansberry documentary entitled, Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, one cannot help but feel that her life ended prematurely and hastily. Yet, the literary legacy Hansberry left behind is wide enough and profound enough to give impact even beyond the grave. The profundity of her work possesses a certain alwaysness, a certain grittiness.

Lorraine Hansberry holds hands and sings with Singer Nina Simone and other activists at a pre-benefit gathering for the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in June 1963 in the home of Activist/Singer/Actor Theodore Bikel. Credit: Courtesy Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust.

The daughter of wealthy African American parents, her childhood was lived out in one of the apartment buildings her father owned. Certainly, life in the “ghetto” meant intimacy with all classes and all variety of experiences. This kind of eclectic “intimacy” was directly responsible for the egalitarian worldview Hansberry developed. In this way, Hansberry was a revolutionary and maintained a particular affection towards working class “Negroes.” It was this genre of folks that Hansberry relied upon as the reservoir of the African American experience. She concluded that most of what we could hope for would come from this “base.”

Hansberry’s basic personality was that of a revolutionary; she was radically black and radically American. Freedom and liberation were the ethics by which she lived. Thereto, agitation and protest were the modus operandi by which freedom would be realized. When the black press was inclined toward being less leftist, Hansberry turned to playwriting as the platform through which she could best express political and social critique. Art, which she conceptualized as the spilling of one’s righteous consciousness into anti-consciousness spaces, should promote thinking and feeling. Hansberry maintained that artists should write about the world as it is and as it should be. The responsibility of black artists, then, was to tell the story of black folks honestly and unashamedly.

In fact, the philosophical mood behind all of Hansberry’s work was this: existential conflict. In Hansberry’s view, all human beings experienced conflict about something in life. Her most famous literary and artistic product, A Raisin in the Sun, grew out of this existential realization –the realization that conflict ungirded the human condition and the black experience in particular. Perhaps most fascinating about Hansberry was her attitude (lyrically and literally). Hansberry was intentionally black and she was intentional about her work being black. She believed that drama should make a larger statement about life. Negro life, she argued, could in fact be art.

Directed by Tracy Heather Strain, the Hansberry documentary is chic… très chic. It is glossy and gutsy in the same way that Hansberry was. Strain applies an anti-traditional and avant-garde cinematic approach to an eclectic and worldly woman. Strain doesn’t immediately jump into Hansberry’s womanist existence. Rather, she begins by probing the entrepreneurial depths of Hansberry’s father. The documentary’s progressive is noteworthy and the film is elevated to the uppermost stratosphere by the presence of luminaries like Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). The film is expertly directed, edited, and produced. I am convinced that it is entirely award-worthy. The documentary is narrated by award-winning actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson and featuring the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose as Lorraine Hansberry. Should Rose portray Hansberry in a feature film, she possesses all the poise and avant-gardeness necessary to do so.


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