A Ballerina’s Tale
directed by Nelson George is a documentary that tells the story of Misty
Copeland’s post-injury return to and rise in the American Ballet Theater
(George 2015). The documentary focuses specifically on Copeland’s issues of
race and body image within the ballet community as the first black female to be
named principal dancer in the international company. George briefly touches
upon Copeland’s early life and childhood, placing most of the attention on her
life after joining the American Ballet Theater (ABT) at seventeen. It appears that
George attempts to focus solely on issues of race and body image within the
context of ballet (“Nelson George Captures the Poise of Misty Copeland”).
However this approach causes him to gloss over the other intersectional issues
Copeland has had to face. George does not further analyze these issues but
simply states that they exist (Schabas 2016). The movie neither goes in depth
on Copeland’s childhood and career nor on the issues that the prima ballerina
faced. Thus, the movie fails as both a biographic documentary and a socially
analytic commentary. Nelson George made a clear and calculated decision to
briefly pass over the upbringing of Misty Copeland (Schabas 2016). However, his
attempt to focus on issues in the world of classical ballet falls short in
terms of analysis of issues of expenses, the cycle of poverty, and
institutionalized racism, as well as other modern day proponents of the
historical lack of color in ballet (Tobias 2015). While George does a good
job of addressing the presence of race and body image issues in the world of
ballet, he glosses over the complicated nature of these issues in today’s society
and fails to further analyze these oppressions even within the realm of ballet.

In his documentary on Misty
Copeland, Nelson George addresses the long standing history of exclusion within
ballet (“Nelson George Captures the Poise of Misty Copeland”). He interviews,
Victoria Rowell, a former ABT member, who cites George Balanchine, a prominent
figure in the world of ballet, as stating “the skin of a dancer should be that
of a freshly peeled apple” (George 2015, 0:19:55). Further, he just barely
touches upon the stereotypes placed on black women in his interview with Robyn
Gardenhire, the founder and artistic director of the City Ballet of Los
Angeles. Gardenhire addresses skin color when it comes to casting saying that the
question is whether you have to be “soft and lovely or do you have to be strong
and sexy” (George 2015, 0:18:40). The “soft and lovely” roles were to be given
to white dancers, while the “strong and sexy” roles, were given to black
dancers. George does not further analyze, however, the history of devaluing and
hyper-sexualizing the black female body (Benard 2016). Black women are multiply
oppressed. They have the misfortune of being both black and female. As they are
looked down upon for race, it is easy to view them in a more sexual and
less-than-human animalistic nature. George further addresses racism in ballet
by stating “many ballet companies believe that dancers of color or muscular
body types would distract the audience” (George 2015, 0:1:53). The idea that
black bodies would distract the audience form the art those very bodies are
creating is inherently rooted in the racist view that black bodies are not
beautiful (Hill 2002). Further it creates the notion that black bodies do not
belong in ballet (Carman 2014). It is this racism that slows Rowell’s
advancement in ballet companies with her peers (George 2015 0:20:25). While George
addresses the racism in the aesthetics of ballet, he does not further analyze
the systematic oppressions that further limit black dancers.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Misty Copeland states that she is
from an underprivileged background (George 2015, 0:8:30). This is when George
should have further looked into the expenses of ballet and the economic
oppression of people of color in the United States.  In the US, there exists “institutionalized
patterns of unequal control over and distribution of a society’s valued goods
and resources such as land, property, money, employment, education, healthcare,
and housing” (McCann & Kim 2016). Dancers of color are often limited due to
the expenses of ballet and the oppression and inequality of this country that
place them in a cycle of poverty and institutionalized racism (Carman 2014). Due
to institutionalized racism, people of color are historically known to be
passed over for employment in favor of a white candidate (Collins and Bilge,
2016). They tend to be limited to lower-wage jobs and thus are forced into
low-socioeconomic standings. They thus live in areas of low-income families
with limited funding for extracurriculars. This means that children in families
of color do not have access to ballet programs based on affordability. Misty
Copeland was able to begin ballet at the age of thirteen due to a class at her
local Boys and Girls Club (“Misty Copeland”). By leaving out this detail,
George neglects to address the role economic oppression plays in the access
dancers of color have to the proper training and dance world.

The most in depth look at the issue
of racism comes from Brenda Dixon Gottschild, the author of The Black Dancing Body. In her
interview, Gottschild states that ballet and the symphony orchestra “are some
of the last bastions of white supremacy” and that the casting directors “don’t
know that’s a problem they don’t realize that…they are the lackeys of racism”
(George 2015, 0:21:10). Gottschild acknowledges the connection of racism in
ballet to the deeper issue of white supremacy in society. However, the casting
directors’ failure to cast black dancers is not the only hold of white
supremacy. George’s take on racism in ballet would have benefited from not only
looking at the white aesthetic limitations artistic directors place but also
the deeper role of white supremacy and inequality place on people of color
economically to keep them out of ballet.

Further, George fails to take into
account the role of gender. Black male principal dancers in American ballet
theaters existed before Misty Copeland (Phillips 2016). While George made it
apparent the aesthetics of ballet favor white dancers, his emphasis on racism
further failed to address the larger effect being black has on women than on
men. Historically, women have been judged more based on their appearance due to
patriarchal standards limiting their worth to their ability to please men (Hill
2002). Further, racist devaluation of black men and women create an animalistic
view of African Americans. This is more problematic for black women as they are
supposed to be dainty and ethereal as ballerinas. Black males get away with
some of this discrimination in the sense that the patriarchy defines males as
more harsh and strong beings. In other words, black female dancers are at a
further disadvantage as their skin is not viewed as feminine enough.

George also makes a point to bring
up the issues of body image in the world of ballet. Specifically, Deirdre Kelly,
author of Ballerina, in her interview
attributes the “skinny ideal” of ballet to George Balanchine (George 2015, 12:30).
Balanchine’s vision of a dancer called for very thin, flat-chested body types.
As Kelly states, this ideal can be detrimental to a ballerina’s health. It is
this ideal that ABT placed upon Copeland when telling her to lose weight
post-puberty (George 2015, 0:12:00). Copeland’s encounter with this ideal
affected her self-esteem causing her to binge eat as she felt so negatively
about herself (George 2015, 14:30). However, George’s approach to body image
seemed rather superficial and lacked depth. George could have further
elaborated on body image in line with racism as it was not believed that
African Americans had the body type to be ballerinas (Carman 2014).

Georg also could have further
elaborated on the physical and mental health effects of the pressure to be
thin. Kelly briefly mentions the inability to menstruate as a side effect of
being very thin (George 2015, 12:30). The pressure to be thin, paired with the
constant movement in front of a mirror, decreases the self-esteem of ballerinas,
as with Misty (Radell 2012). George however glosses over the severity of eating
disorders in the world of ballet, perhaps in an attempt to keep the film’s
“composure” (Seibert 2015). Copeland briefly mentions a feeling of “sinking”
and desperation that arose as she did not know how to handle her body. These
feelings are prevalent in when face with body image issues in the dance world
and thus are very important to dancers’ mental health (Radell 2012). This is
important as there appears to be a lack of proper support and resources for
mental health issues within the dance community (Washington 2017). George did
not only need to draw attention to the “skinny ideal” in ballet but also to the
health effects it has on dancers and the improper regard for those issues.

What George’s documentary succeeds
in doing is displaying the importance of Misty Copeland’s rise in the representation
of black women. When Copeland lands the role of the “Firebird” she makes waves
gaining the lead not only as a non-principal dancer but also as a black woman.
There is not “this woman with her breasts out and arched back…that’s a curvy
black woman on the front of the MET” (George 2015 0:30:50). George succeeds in
painting Copeland as a trailblazer in the ballet world as a black ballerina who
stands out when uniformity is valued over individuality (George 2015, 0:22:30).
Representation is important in creating role models for children of color.
Seeing other people of color succeed provides a sense of validation in what you
are doing and creates a feeling of attainability. Copeland faces this as she
reads an article calling out the lack of diversity in ballet entitled “Where
are all the Black Swans?” (George 2015, 0:17:10).  The lack of representation causes Copeland to
question herself and her motives, stating “Why am I doing what I’m doing?
There’s no hope” (George 2015, 0:17:23). This brief section of the movie
highlights just how important black representation is in the forward movement
against racism. George further emphasizes the importance of representation in
the scene with Copeland and former ballerina Raven Wilkinson. Copeland recounts
the first time she saw Wilkinson dance stating that she cried because she did
not know a black ballerina of her caliber even existed (George 2015, 0:54:00).
Through Copeland’s expression of the importance of representation in her
career, George solidifies the importance Copeland herself has now as a black

George also succeeds in capturing
brief moments where Copeland addresses the importance of talking about racism
and black bodies in ballet. In her opening lines Copeland states, “I think that
people think that sometimes I focus too much on the fact that I’m a black
dancer. But that’s so much of who I am” (George 2015, 0:2:10). Being silent
when it comes to issues of race is a privilege held only by white people.
People of color constantly feel the oppression of being colored in society that
values whiteness. Further, Copeland stresses the importance of talking about
race as it “forces people to confront issues” (George 2015, 0:54:15). People
tend to be uncomfortable when talking about issues of race. It is this
discomfort however that should encourage discussion and change.

Perhaps the most prominent line in
the film comes from Misty Copeland herself as she essentially summarizes what
she has endured as a black ballerina, stating that people “don’t understand what
a feat it is being a black woman” (George 2015, 0:2:30). In this very line
George highlights how Copeland manages to call out racism, sexism, and the lack
of understanding of these issues that arise from differing positionalities.
George succeeds in displaying the fact that people tend to be blind to
oppressions they do not face. This is furthered by Gottschild’s aforementioned
statement regarding the ignorance of artistic directors in the role they play
in white supremacy. George thus clearly conveys the fact that one’s
positionality biases the way they see social issues.

George’s success in the movie comes
from the subject matter herself (Seibert 2015).

 Misty is
a strong, driven, black dancer with a story worth telling. George however skims
over this story in an attempt to iterate her importance as a different figure
in the ballet world. By praising her importance however, George neglects to
analyze the deeper causes that make Copeland such an anomaly in the ballet industry
in the first place. George fails to look at the role of poverty and
institutionalized racism that blocks black dancers from even entering the dance
world, let alone getting cast. Further, George neglects to analyze body image
in lie with race as well as mental health and its stigma. Essentially, what
George succeeds in doing is drawing attention to a symptom of the much deeper
issues of inequality and oppression in this country.


I'm Erica!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out