On Friday, February 7th at 8pm (Central) on PBS, THIRTEEN's American Masters will air Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth. The documentary is in honor of Ms. Walker's 70th birthday and Black History Month. Filmmaker Pratibha Parmar's new biographical documentary tells Walker's dramatic life story with poetry and lyricism, and features new interviews with Walker, Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Gloria Steinem, Sapphire and the late Howard Zinn in one of his final interviews. Writer/activist Alice Walker (b. Feb. 9, 1944) made history as the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her seminal novel The Color Purple (1982), for which she won the National Book Award. American Masters - Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth charts Walker's inspiring journey from her birth into a family of sharecroppers in Eatonton, Ga. to the present.
The film explores Walker's relationship with her mother, poverty, and participation in the Civil Rights Movement, which were the formative influences on her consciousness and became the inherent themes in her writing. "As a filmmaker, one of the deepest desires is to engage the audience in the conversation unfolding on screen. I am thrilled to offer this in Beauty In Truth, where Alice's openness, warmth and on-screen intimacy reflects our long history of kinship," said Ms. Parmar. "Making Beauty In Truth has been an adventure of discovery and sheer inspiration. I'm so pleased it will have a national audience on American Masters." Pratibha Parmar's past works include feature film Nina's Heavenly Delights (2006) and the documentary Warrior Marks (1993), based on the book of the same name that she and Walker co-authored. Here, she chats with more insight about the making of her latest work Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth.
MALONE: What first attracted you to this project?
P. PARMAR: “I’ve known Alice for over 20 years. I first met her when I did a film about African American women and the Civil Rights movement titled The Force of Rage. Prior to then, I didn’t really know just how much of an activist Alice had been during the Civil Rights movement. Years later in the 1990’s, I met up with her again. She asked me to work with her on a film about female genital mutilation. During the making of that film we became good friends and I I got to know her very well. I had not really thought about doing a movie about Alice. But one day I was watching a series about Americans who had made a major impact that helped shape American culture. Most of the people profiled were men. And that’s when I asked, ‘Why isn’t Alice Walker featured?’ Alice’s life and work has helped shape so many movements and the lives of people over the years.”
MALONE: What was Ms. Walker’s initial reaction when you approached her about doing the film? P. PARMAR: “Her first reaction was very spontaneous. She said, ‘Yes, why not?’ I think she said that because first, we’re friends. But also, she later said ‘I know that you will be honorable.’ So there’s a lot of mutual respect here between two friends. Alice knows that she can trust me with her life story. During this film she speaks candidly about things that are painful and other things that have brought her joy.”
MALONE: What are some aspects about the documentary that viewers and fans will be surprised to know or learn about Alice Walker?
P. PARMAR: “The film’s been shown all over the world. But audiences who’ve seen it in America have been surprised to discover what an activist Alice was during the Civil Rights movement…She lived in Mississippi at a time when segregation was at its highest plus, she was married to a white man during the time. Their marriage was illegal back then because in some states interracial marriages were against the law. Another element that seems to be surprising people is the extremely negative backlash Alice received after the Color Purple movie was released. A lot of the hostility came from her own African American people. She experienced violence, and harsh verbal attacks from talk shows and the public. And another surprise is to see the footage of the actual shack that Alice grew up in. Seeing that little shack was a surprise to me too. Even though it was small and dilapidated, amidst extreme segregation, Alice grew up in a family that was full of love. Alice says it was that kind of love that helped them make it through it all.”
MALONE: I know that over the years there was a time when Alice and her daughter were estranged from each other. Did you get a chance to interview her for the documentary?
P. PARMAR: “I tried to interview Rebecca Walker but she declined our request. Fortunately, there’s enough material in the public domain where she’s been interviewed, especially in the British papers, and also on shows such as Good Morning America. She’s stated explicitly what she thinks about her mom and being mothered by Alice Walkeer. But what is not available until now, is Alice sharing her experience of what that estrangement from her daughter has been like for her emotionally.” MALONE: What is the take away, so to speak, that you would like for viewers to have after watching Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth?
P. PARMAR: I would like for viewers to be encouraged. I would hope they find the courage within themselves to live their own truth, and to also speak out about injustices. I hope the film encourages people to follow their own creative muses, and find joy in nature in the way Alice Walker found it. Alice’s life and what she has to say, along with her writings create joy.”
For more information about the American Masters series visit: pbs.org/americanmasters