2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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The world almost lost Lorraine Hansberry’s most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun, before it ripened. 

In a moment of frustration, Hansberry threw the script in the trash. Luckily for us, her husband retrieved it from the wastebasket in their New York City apartment and set it aside for her to complete. She did. 

Two years later, on March 11, 1959, it debuted on Broadway, earning Hansberry the distinction of being the youngest dramatist and the first African-American to win the Best Play award from the New York Drama Critics Circle. The story focuses on the Younger clan, a hard-working Black family in Chicago dreaming of moving up in the world after their patriarch’s passing. 

After several revivals, the play continues to speak to the nation’s racial turmoil and inequality. The current iteration, starring Denzel Washington as the dreaming and scheming Walter Lee Younger, wraps its run on Broadway this month. 

Co-director Tracy Heather Strain has been working nine years to produce the first full-length documentary on the artist, with the hopes of releasing the film in time for the 50th anniversary of her death. (Hansberry was only 34 in 1965 when she died of pancreatic cancer.) Strain’s previous work includes the six-part PBS series I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African-American Arts, which included a short segment on Hansberry. Strain has completed interviews with some of Hansberry’s close friends and family, as well as several of the actors who starred in her plays—Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, and Louis Gossett Jr.

The documentary has reached 75% of its $100,000 goal, poised to hit its target in the final two weeks. The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the producers a $500,000 production grant, but the money is contingent on making the $100,000 goal.

Watch the Kickstarter video below. Tell us: would you be interested in supporting this film? 

Films on Princess Diana, Steve Jobs, and Jimi Hendrix should make 2013 a rich year for biopics. An intriguing new one just has been announced: a movie on the life of Lorriane Hansberry, playwright, author, and activist.

The big question is who will play Lorraine? According to Shadow and ActTaye Hansberry, Lorraine’s grand niece, has been cast. She will also help write the screenplay. Jaleel White (from Family Matters) will play James Baldwin, one of Lorraine’s close friends. Production begins in the fall.

Lorraine’s most-known work, A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family’s attempts to integrate a Chicago neighborhood. Unmarred by violent attacks against them and a court order to move, her family stood its ground. Their case, Hansberry v. Lee, eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which in 1940 set aside the restriction that African American families could not purchase or lease land in that Chicago neighborhood.

Hansberry began her professional life at the black newspaper, Freedom, under the tutelage of actor and activist Paul Robeson in New York City. She wrote her play concurrently, and A Raisin in the Sun premiered in 1959. It was the first Broadway theater produced by an African-American woman. Hansberry became the youngest person ever to win the New York Critics Circle award.

Her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, opened in 1964 to harsh reviews. However much this hurt, Hansberry stepped up into a prominent role in the civil rights movement, speaking out against racism and homophobia.

The playwright was just 34 when she died of pancreatic cancer. After her death, her former husband, Robert Neimiroff, adapted her collection of essays into a play titled, To Be Young, Gifted and Black. Her close friend, Nina Simone, was inspired by the work and came out with a song of the same name in honor of Lorraine. Listen to it below: