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Screen Time: Week of February 8, 2021

By Tom White

Nina Simone, featured in Yoruba Richen's 'How It Feels To Be Free,' which streams on 'American Masters' through February 16. Photo: Ava Tews. Courtesy of Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Screen Time is your curated weekly guide to excellent documentaries and nonfiction programs that you can watch at home. 

Streaming through February 16 on American Masters, How It Feels To Be Free, from Yoruba Richen, profiles six iconic African American female artists—Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier—digging in to how they channeled their creativity into front-and-center civil rights activism within an industry bent on stereotyping and marginalizing them. 

Premiering February 15 on American Experience, Voice of Freedom, from Rob Rapley, tells the story of the great contralto Marian Anderson, who, in 1939, having been barred by the Daughters of the American Revolution from performing in Constitution Hall, delivered a history-making concert from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson would go on to a celebrated career as a classically trained vocalist, lauded in Europe and America alike—but also impacted by the indignities and outright violence of racism and segregation. 

The Ascendants, a series from Ladan Osman, profiles four rising musicians from Chicago, examining the issues that these young Black women face in both a male-dominated music industry and a marginalizing society. Now streaming on Topic.

Streaming on The Criterion Channel are three works by pioneering docmaker Madeline Anderson, the first Black woman to direct a documentary for television. That film, Integration Report I (1960), which examines the early desegregation efforts in Alabama, Brooklyn and Washington, DC,  is included in this series. I Am Somebody (1970) documents a labor strike by Black female hospital employees in Charleston, South Carolina. And A Tribute to Malcom X (1967), which Anderson made for the WNET series Black Journal, features an interview with Betty Shabazz, the civil rights icon’s widow, shortly after his assassination in 1965.

Available on MUBI is Terence Dixon’s 1970 documentary Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris, profiles one of the true intellectual giants in Black American culture. Living in Paris at the time of the production, Baldwin challenges the team of white filmmakers in a tense, combative discourse about the sociopolitical realities of the day.

Now available on American Experience is Goin’ Back to T-town, from IDA Career Achievement Award honoree Sam Pollard. The film tells the story of the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which thrived economically in the 1920s and 1930s and earned the moniker “Black Wall Street.” This is despite the horrific, racially motivated massacre in 1921 and the Great Depression that followed. But ironically, Greenwood could not survive the progressive policies of integration and urban renewal of the 1960s.

Now streaming on Independent Lens is IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund grantee Women in Blue, from Dierdre Fishel. The film profiles women within the Minneapolis Police Department who work to reform it through their battle for gender equity. The film focuses on the MPD’s first female and openly gay police chief, Janee Harteau and three of her female colleagues as they each try to redefine what it means to protect and serve.