Misty Copeland holds an important place in history as the first African-American principle ballerina in the elite American Ballet Theatre. She’s telling her powerful story in the new documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale, now playing in select theaters and on VOD.
The movie is directed by Nelson George and reveals how Copeland, since childhood, repeatedly defied the odds stacked against her to thrive in the competitive world of ballet.
“I really want people to be aware and educated not just on what classical ballet is but also the lack of diversity and the way that especially black women in particular are viewed,” Copeland, 33, said in an interview with theGrio. “There are so many of these things that come along with being a black woman that don’t even allow you to dream of being a ballerina. I want to set that example that that’s not true, and I’m here and I’ve succeeded and I hope it’s giving the next generation the ability to dream of whatever it is that they want to be.”
At a point in the film, Copeland wonders if people think she focuses too much on being a “black dancer.” However, she says to neglect talking about her racial identity just wouldn’t be right.
“I think it’s being a bit naive for a black dancer to pretend that that’s not a part of their journey,” Copeland says. “My journey is my journey because I’m a black woman, and I would have had a completely different path if I wasn’t. So to neglect that just doesn’t make any sense. And it’s not true. It’s not my truth.”
“It makes it that much more extraordinary to get to this level, because it’s never been done before. To ignore the fact that I’m African-American, I think, is taking away all the hard work and accomplishment that that holds.”
You may have recently seen Copeland on The View, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and 60 Minutes as she is making her rounds on the network morning shows.
She without a doubt has star power.
In June, a dance critic for the Washington Post wrote an article posing the question: “Can Misty Copeland be both a celebrity AND a great artist?”
Copeland says yes she can.
“It’s hurtful to me,” Copeland said of the celebrity-artist question. “I’ve spent a lot of my life maybe not being as seen as I am now, but in the public eye, really since I was 13-years-old when I started dancing. Something that dancers have inside of them that a lot of people don’t is the strength, determination and dedication to be able to do what we do every day. There’s no being a celebrity or sacrificing that and being able to get on the stage and do what we do. If anything, I’m working 25 hours a day to be able to handle all of that. I’m an artist, I’m a ballerina… I’m an athlete… and that’s it.”
George recalled Copeland’s unparalleled work ethic that he witnessed firsthand during the directorial process for A Ballerina’s Tale.
“[Misty] is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. Her schedule is incredible. The work she puts in… her celebrity only helps ballet. I think she’s the first pop ballet figure since [Mikhail] Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov did movies, TV, tons of stuff. I feel like ballet needs her.”
Follow theGrio.com’s Entertainment Editor Chris Witherspoon on Twitter @WitherspoonC.