How It Feels To Be Free

Six Black female entertainers challenge an industry that was hell-bent on keeping them out.

How It Feels to Be Free takes an unprecedented look at the intersection of African American women artists, politics, and entertainment and tells the story of how six trailblazing performers, Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier changed American culture through their films, fashion, their music and their politics.

The film tells the stories of Lena Horne, the first Black woman signed to a major studio; Abbey Lincoln, the “Black Marilyn Monroe” turned protest singer and activist; Diahann Carroll, the first Black woman to both win a Tony Award and star in her own TV series in a role other than a maid; Nina Simone, the revolutionary musical prodigy; Pam Grier, the first female action hero; and actress Cicely Tyson, the proud race woman who use her art as a form of protest.

How It Feels to Be Free explores how these women re-shaped the way Black women were represented on stage and screen and how Black female entertainers who came after them built off their success, learned from their failures, and continue working to change the industry.

The documentary features archival performances and interviews with the trailblazers, new interviews with Diahann Carroll and Pam Grier, and interviews from some of the industry’s leading entertainers such as Alicia Keys, Lena Waithe, Halle Berry and Samuel Jackson. The film is based on the book How it Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement by Ruth Feldstein.