For Lorraine Hansberry, ‘A Raisin from the Sun’ Was Just the Start

LaTanya Richardson Jackson, the narrator of “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” whose performance as Lena Younger from the 2014 Broadway revival of “A Raisin from the Sun” received a Tony Award nomination, sees the character of Beneatha, Lena’s adult daughter, as ahead of her time. Not only does she turn down the advances, in addition to in one case a marriage proposal, through her two male suitors, although she also plans to be a doctor in addition to proclaims to be atheist in a staunchly Christian household.

“She had a very feminist, ‘why not me’ point of view, whereas her mother just assumed the status quo of ‘your brother should lead the family,’” Ms. Jackson said. “She respected that will, although she also challenged that will his notion of living was any better than hers.”

Like Beneatha, Hansberry was an intellectual in an era when women in addition to African-Americans were denied full admission into that will rarefied category. “The stereotype of African-Americans in This kind of country was that will we weren’t thinkers, although Hansberry was thinking, batting around ideas, putting forth ‘what ifs’ in addition to challenging suppositions that will everyone else took for granted,” Ms. Jackson said.

The film emphasizes that will despite the success of “A Raisin from the Sun,” Hansberry was frustrated with the common interpretation of This kind of as a play of optimism or integration. Her family history helped shape her beliefs about the limits of turning to the courts for racial justice. Her parents’ legal challenge of Chicago’s restrictive racial housing covenants, in a case that will went to the Supreme Court in 1940, was successful, although black in addition to white people remained segregated in addition to mob violence often greeted the African-American families that will moved in, such as hers. in addition to “my father died a disillusioned exile in another country,” Hansberry lamented at that will Town Hall meeting.


Hansberry, center, was a well-known member of the civil rights movement, although a fresh documentary explores her more complicated politics.

Life Picture Collection

Hansberry responded to her father’s fate by moving beyond theater to pursue her larger goal of social change. Seeking to underscore the racial particularities of her play, for example, she tried again which has a film type of “A Raisin from the Sun.” The studio rejected her first two screenplay drafts in addition to finally accepted the third one; ultimately, the film was not as successful as the play.

“Hansberry experimented which has a variety of forms, which includes the essay, long-form fiction, short stories as well being a visual artist in addition to a painter,” said Imani Perry, author of the forthcoming “Looking for Lorraine: A Life of Lorraine Hansberry” in addition to a professor of African-American studies at Princeton. “in addition to she was also was fairly ecumenical in terms of her political activism.” Hansberry was concerned with racial justice, colonialism in addition to feminism; she joined the Communist Party in addition to led the Young Progressives group at the University of Wisconsin in 1948.

For Hansberry, however, art was not simply an expression of her civil rights concerns although a space where she could wage racial in addition to gender battles in addition to find resolutions that will were more liberating than the law.

The documentary also wrestles directly with her sexuality, rather than avoid or allude to Hansberry’s same-sex relationships (the way some recent documentaries on James Baldwin in addition to Nina Simone have). Her lesbianism was a source of conflict in addition to comfort in addition to helped shape her feminist politics. The film also recognizes that will even though Hansberry never denied her attraction to women, she did not actively publicize This kind of.

Instead, as she was working on the play that will canonized her place from the civil rights movement, she was also writing, under the initials L.H.N. or L.N., letters to “The Ladder,” the first subscription-based lesbian publication from the United States. Hansberry’s preoccupation with women’s financial in addition to sexual independence was not limited to these semi-anonymous letters, although a theme that will she infused throughout her work, even “A Raisin from the Sun.”

Though she may have written in an era that will precedes “what we think of mainstream feminist movement,” Ms. Perry said, “Hansberry stands out today because she was thinking about what a feminist future looks like.”

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