American Masters − Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart
Premieres nationwide on January 19 at 9/8c on on PBS
Tracy Heather Strain, Filmmaker
Tracy Heather Strain, co-founder of the Boston-based media production company The Film Posse, is a director, writer and producer of documentaries and non-fiction media projects for screens large and small. Her credits include coordinating producer of “The Battle of Chosin,” “The Mine Wars” and “The Rise and Fall of Penn Station,” and producer of “Silicon Valley” for American Experience; director and producer of “When the Bough Breaks” for the duPont Columbia Award-winning series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?; director and producer of “Building the Alaska Highway” for American Experience, which was described by The Hollywood Reporter as “truly great storytelling”; director, producer and writer of “The Story We Tell” for RACE: The Power of an Illusion; and director, producer and writer of “Bright Like a Sun” and “The Dream Keepers” for Blackside’s I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African-American Art, which won a George Foster Peabody Award and Organization of American Historians’ Erik Barnouw Award, among other honors. A former assistant to New York-based still photographer Mitch Epstein, Strain also worked with him as art department coordinator and second-unit assistant director on Mira Nair’s feature film Mississippi Masala.
A graduate of Wellesley College (American Studies) and Harvard Graduate School of Education (Technology, Innovation and Education), Strain serves a Professor of the Practice in Media and Screen Studies at Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media and Design. She is currently working as coordinating producer of the forthcoming American Experience episode about the history of the Everglades.
Louis Gossett, Jr., Film Interviewee; Actor
Actor Louis Gossett, Jr. is one of stage, film and television’s most recognized and lauded talents. With over 300 titles to his credit, Gossett has earned some of the industry’s highest honors — including Emmys, Golden Globes, NAACP Image Awards and an Academy Award for his portrayal of Sgt. Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman — and now adds author, director and humanitarian to his accomplishments.
With a career spanning six decades, the elder statesman has dedicated this last quadrant of his life to communicate with younger generations and transmit the values of community, self-love and purpose that have characterized our progress as a people. As such, he established Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Eracism Foundation (www.eracismfoundation.org), dedicated to providing young adults with the tools they need for living a racially diverse and culturally inclusive life.
Gossett was born on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 17, he caught the break every actor lives for when he auditioned for Broadway’s Take a Giant Step (1953). He beat out 400 other candidates to land the lead role, and earned the prestigious Donaldson Award as the year’s best newcomer.
Gossett attended New York University, becoming a marquee player on the NYU basketball team. But just as his sports career was about to begin with the New York Knicks, he had second thoughts and decided to resume his acting pursuits.
His next Broadway role came in 1959 in the watershed play A Raisin in the Sun — a portrayal of African-American life written by Lorraine Hansberry. Gossett starred in both the stage and film version with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee.
With a knack for landing guest spots on hit series, Gossett had roles in the early ’60s on such shows as Bonanza, The Partridge Family and Mod Squad, followed by more roles in the mid-1980s on hits including The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Six Million Dollar Man, Police Story and The Rockford Files.
Meanwhile, Gossett made a name for himself on the big screen as well, appearing in such films as The Landlord (1970), The Skin Game (1971) and Travels With My Aunt (1972).
All of this work led the actor to a pivotal role on the silver screen, portraying Fiddler in Roots (1977). The groundbreaking miniseries was a popular adaptation of the book by Alex Haley. Gossett earned an Emmy Award for his performance in Roots, followed by more film roles and critical acclaim. His menacing work in The Deep (1977) and portrayal of a tough-but-fair drill sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) brought him rave reviews, with the latter role earning him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Following his Oscar win, Gossett made a number of big-screen and television appearances, notably in 1983’s Sadat (as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat), the sci-fi adventure Enemy Mine (1985) and the action adventure series Iron Eagle (1985, 1986, 1992 and 1995), which introduced him to a new generation of moviegoers. In 1991, the actor garnered more accolades for his work in HBO’s The Josephine Baker Story, for which he won a Golden Globe Award.
A Los Angeles Times best-selling author (An Actor and a Gentleman), Gossett is working steadily in films and on TV with recent roles on CBS-TV’s Madam Secretary, Extant and the BET miniseries The Book of Negroes. He has roles in several upcoming feature films and will make his feature film directorial debut.
Additionally, he has now dedicated his life to an all-out conscious offensive against racism, violence, ignorance and social apathy. His Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Eracism Foundation was created to support this quest. Through his foundation, Gossett will establish Shamba Centers (Swahili for “farm”) throughout the United States, offering instruction in cultural diversity, historical enrichment and antiviolence initiatives for young adults, teens and pre-teens to help them understand and eliminate racism by creating a living environment where racism and injustice have a hard time existing.
Michael Kantor, American Masters Series Executive Producer
Michael Kantor joined American Masters as the series’ executive producer in April 2014 during its 28th season on PBS, and founded its theatrical imprint American Masters Pictures in January 2016. American Masters Pictures was represented by three films at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise and Richard Linklater – Dream is Destiny. An Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker, Kantor has worked on projects for PBS, HBO, Bravo and 20th Century Fox. His PBS series include Broadway: The American Musical (hosted by Julie Andrews), Make ‘Em Laugh (hosted by Billy Crystal) and Superheroes (hosted by Liev Schreiber). Kantor also wrote, directed and produced the award-winning profile American Masters: Quincy Jones: In the Pocket and served as executive producer of Give Me the Banjo with Steve Martin. He is president of Almo Inc., a company that distributes the American Film Theatre series, including Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, starring Katharine Hepburn, and Chekhov’s Three Sisters with Laurence Olivier. Kantor has co-authored three books, serves as a Tony nominator, and taught producing at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.