I was rather familiar with the story of Misty Copeland, largely from this 60 Minutes clip, about how the ballerina, who didn’t even dance until she was 13, became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer of the legendary American Ballet Theater.
What was interesting about the documentary A Ballerina’s Tale was less about the dancer herself, and more about the social context of her achievement. It wasn’t just her race but her “muscular” body that had precluded someone who looked like her to be the swan. Her potentially career-ending injury was also a major focus, and she showed tremendous resolve getting through it.
I also enjoyed learning about the history of black ballerinas. Her interaction with the apparently legendary Raven Wilkinson – who I had never heard of – was fascinating, in part because Misty too was learning about her dance roots. A group of successful older black women took Misty Copeland under their wings and helped her feel less alone, and that was touching.
This was a Kickstarter film from Nelson George, who I know best as a writer of the book Hip Hop America, and Where Did Our Love Go?, a book about Motown. Before that, he was a critic about the black music scene for Billboard.
Here is the movie trailer.
A Ballerina’s Tale was playing at the nearby Madison Theatre. We thought the Daughter would want to see it the day before Thanksgiving, but she declined. So the Wife went to the 5 pm showing, and I the 7 pm viewing; we were the ONLY persons to watch it, and that was a shame, because it was worthwhile.
Yet there’s an arm’s length distancing from the film’s primary subject which made her somehow less compelling. The Variety review says it best: “She’s immensely humble and focused on her goals, which makes her an excellent performer and an equally strong ambassador for dancers of color, but a tougher nut to crack as a documentary subject.”