A Ballerina's Tale

Misty Copeland makes history as the American Ballet Theatre's first African-American principal dancer.

ballerina Misty Copeland in purple ballet costume
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
February 8, 2016
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Series and Special Projects
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2015 African American Film Critics Association Awards (AAFCA)-Best Documentary
  • Director

    Nelson George

    Nelson George is an author, filmmaker, television producer, and critic with a long career in analyzing and presenting the diverse elements of African-American culture. Queen Latifah won the Golden Globe for playing the lead in his directorial debut, the HBO movie Life Support, a critically-acclaimed drama about the effects of HIV on a troubled black Show more family in Nelson’s native Brooklyn, New York. He co-edited, with Alan Leeds, The James Brown Reader (Plume), a collection of previously published articles about the Godfather of Soul that date as far back the late '50s. Since 2013, Nelson has completed documentary projects VH1's Rock Docs, Finding the Funk, Showtime's Brooklyn Boheme (which was supported by Kickstarter), ESPN's The Announcement, and the short All Hail the Beat for the Focus Forward campaign. Show less


    Leslie Norville

    Leslie Norville is a Brooklyn-based producer from Toronto, Canada. Her films have screened at numerous film festivals and on television around the world. Her first feature-length documentary as producer, Minustah Steals Goats, premiered at the 2010 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and was distributed by 7th Art Releasing. Show more Norville has collaborated with Nelson George on projects such as Finding the Funk, an official selection at the 2013 SXSW and Hot Docs Film Festivals; Disdain the Mundane, an ESPN 30 for 30 short; and Ballerina’s Tale, which had its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. Prior to her work with Nelson George, she had the opportunity to work with Lee Hirsch on his award-winning documentary Bully (Independent Lens, 2014) and on Jane Wells’ and JK Wasson's Tricked. Norville is also the recipient of a Tribeca Documentary Fund and a Funding Exchange grant. Show less

    We fund untold stories for public media.

    Learn more about funding opportunities with ITVS.

    The Film

    Few dancers reach the elite level of ballet; of that already small number only a fraction are black women. Misty Copeland shattered those barriers in 2015, making history as the first African American principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT).A Ballerina’s Tale intimately documents Copeland’s historic rise while shining a light on the absence of women of color at major ballet companies. The film also explores how ballet’s emphasis on waifish bodies impacts the health of ballerinas while sending a negative message to young fans.

    Born in Kansas City, and raised in San Pedro, California, Misty Copeland did not begin studying ballet until the relatively late age of 13. In 2000, she joined ABT's Studio Company, and the following year became a member of ABT’s Corps de Ballet. She continued to rise within the company, becoming a soloist in August 2007. In 2013, she was offered the lead role in Igor Stravinsky's challenging Firebird, to be performed at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, a major coup for a soloist.

    The night of the Firebird performance Misty danced beautifully, but later revealed she'd been performing in great pain. Soon she would learn that her left shin suffered six fractures and required corrective surgery. Many doubted she would ever dance again. A Ballerina's Tale follows Misty's journey, from the triumph of Firebird to the injury and painful road back to the American Ballet Theatre stage, and emergence as a star in the process.