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AMERICAN MASTERS: Becoming Helen Keller

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Library of Congress/ Colorization by Jared Enos
Helen Keller reading, 1904.

Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV / On Demand

AMERICAN MASTERS “Becoming Helen Keller” examines one of the 20th century’s human rights pioneers in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The new documentary rediscovers the complex life and legacy of author and activist Helen Keller (1880-1968), who was deaf and blind since childhood, exploring how she used her celebrity and wit to advocate for social justice, particularly for women, workers, people with disabilities and people living in poverty.

AMERICAN MASTERS tells Keller’s story through rarely seen photographs, archival film clips and interviews with historians, scholars and disability rights advocates. Narrated by author, psychotherapist and disability rights advocate Rebecca Alexander, the film features on-camera performances from Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Cherry Jones reading Keller’s writings.

Actor and dancer Alexandria Wailes provides American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation of Keller’s words with all other ASL interpretation by writer and rapper Warren “WAWA” Snipe. The program also features audio description by National Captioning Institute and closed captioning by VITAC.

AMERICAN MASTERS: Becoming Helen Keller: Preview

Keller first came into public view at a young age, soon after her teacher Anne Sullivan taught her to communicate. As she progressed through her education, graduating from Radcliffe College, Keller steadily gained international attention.

Keller's use of oral communication [Audio Description]

Though she lived until age 87, became an accomplished writer and activist, Keller continues to be immortalized as a child, such as in the U.S. Capitol with the statue of her at a water pump. She recounted this moment from her youth in her first autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” later made famous by the book’s stage and screen adaptation, “The Miracle Worker.”

Helen Keller the suffragist [Audio Description]

AMERICAN MASTERS “Becoming Helen Keller” delves beyond the mythologized disability icon to present a critical look at her rich, decades-long career and some of its controversies, including her support of socialism and her changing positions on eugenics. The film reveals little-known details of Keller’s personal life and examines her public persona and advocacy, including the progressive reforms she helped achieve.

Helen Keller studied socialism [Audio Description]

Speaking out for civil rights at great personal cost, Keller supported women’s suffrage, the NAACP, access to health care and assistive technology as a human right, and workers’ rights as a member of the Socialist Party of America and the labor union Industrial Workers of the World.

Watch On Your Schedule:

Closing the series’ 35th season, “Becoming Helen Keller” premieres nationwide Tuesday, Oct. 19, 201 at 9 p.m. on PBS. This film is available on demand simultaneously with the broadcast.

The film will be available on demand for a limited time after broadcast. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, a benefit for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

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Credits:

A production of Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc., American Masters Pictures and ITVS. Michael Pressman is director. Laurie Block is consulting producer. Mary McDonagh Murphy is producer. Writers are John Crowley and Mary McDonagh Murphy. Susan Lacy and Michael Kantor are executive producers. For ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer is executive producer.