As part of its celebration of Black History Month, CMT programmed activities for its employees and interns throughout February, including a book club led by Katie Buchanan, SVP of Programming Strategy. Together, members of the book club read and explored the themes of “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” by Ayana Mathis.
The book — a transfixing, at times harrowing tale about striving in the face of adversity, set against the backdrop of The Great Migration and race relations in the era between the 1920s-50s — was distributed at the beginning of February, giving the book club members enough time to read half of the book by our first meeting on Feb. 11. All in all, the book club was an emotional experience that sometimes brought tears to our eyes and left us hopeful for a sequel.
Yesterday, to cap off the month-long celebration of Black History, CMT hosted a screening of Lady Sings the Blues. The 1972 Paramount film chronicles the rise and fall of legendary blues singer Billie Holiday, portrayed by equally legendary Diana Ross. The film features Holliday’s late childhood, stint as a prostitute, early tours, marriages and drug addiction. Diana Ross was nominated for an Academy Award for her role.
Before the film Justin Wyatt, VP Consumer Insights & Research, led an enlightening discussion about the history of the film. Wyatt was a film professor and often showed this film throughout the “Diversity in Media” section of his course. Lady Sings the Blues came out at the time of Hollywood’s exploitation of black actors and storylines—called “blacksploitation”—which were considered quite racist and featured black actors committing crimes and abusing drugs.
Lady Sings the Blues strayed from the blacksploitation films of the day and was produced as a true Hollywood musical. Billie Holliday broke racial boundaries throughout her time as a singer, so it made sense that a film about her life would as well. Diana Ross studied Holliday’s song for an entire year before filming even began. The film went on to be one of the top ten box office films for 1972 and Ross was nominated for an Oscar. She perfectly captured Holliday’s difficult life and the sacrifices she had to make to be who she became. The film was a glimpse into the hardships that black people faced during the 1930s-1950s.
If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend Lady Sings the Blues! It was a perfect way to end our Black History Month here at CMT.