Alice Walker - Beauty In Truth
"The Color Purple" writer kept the slave name of her ancestor who walked from Virginia to Georgia. Pratibha Parmar's documentary "Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth" recounts the turbulent journeys the Pulitzer Prize-winner is still taking.
"People have a problem with my disinterest in submission," Walker says. "And with my intellect, my choice of lovers, my choice of everything." She says she's not lesbian, bi, or straight, having been married to a man and having had relationships with women, including singer Tracy Chapman. "I'm curious," she says.
Born into a cotton sharecropper family, her mother ironed paper bags for wallpaper, and Walker lost her right eye in a shooting accident at age 8. She got a scholarship to Spelman, but left to go to Sarah Lawrence when her mentor, playwright Howard Zinn, got into trouble for speaking out against segregation.
Walker has written since childhood, for when she "couldn't deal with reality," and found poetry "the medicine to heal the wound of an abortion," which she had when she was 18. In the film, Walker reflects on "the writing heritage bequeathed to Black writers in the South," and notes that she "wrote out of a deeper awareness living there."
She married white Jewish Civil Rights lawyer Melvyn Leventhal at New York University, because Mississippi had an anti-miscegenation law. Walker's parents were polite; his mom sat shiva. They returned to Meridian during the Civil Rights movement, because "It's not my home if I'm afraid to live in some part of it." They had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969, and received cards stating "The Eyes of the Klan are on You."
The family returned to NYC and Walker become a Ms. contributing editor (Gloria Steinem is one of the many featured interviewees), and created a sisterhood of Black women writers like Toni Morrison. After her divorce, Walker moved to San Francisco and, among prodigious output, reintroduced the world to the work of Zora Neale Hurston.
Alongside critical praise of her work, Walker has angered many in her community. Steven Spielberg's film version of her epistolary novel "The Color Purple" was picketed by African-Americans for its harsh portrayal of Black men, incest and lesbianism. She also received backlash for her "Possessing the Secret of Joy" about female genital mutilation.
Her personal life has had heartache as well. Walker is estranged from her daughter, and continues to write and fight for racial and gender equality. "Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet," she says.
"Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth" is an intimate look at an important voice. For further info, visit http://www.alicewalkerfilm.com/the-film/
"Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth" is being streamed by PBS / American Masters through November.