The “Life in Motion” Interview
with Kam Williams
Born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 10, 1982, Misty Copeland
Is a soloist at the American Ballet Theatre. A recipient of the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Arts, Misty is also an inductee into the Boys and Girls Club Alumni Hall of Fame.
She lives in New York City and can be visited online at www.MistyCopeland.com and followed on Twitter at @mistyonpointe. Here, she talks about her memoir, ‘Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.”
Kam Williams: Hi Misty, thanks for the interview. I really enjoyed your autobiography.
Misty Copeland: Thank you.
KW: What inspired you to write it at such a young age?
MC: I didn’t expect it to happen this soon, but it seemed like the right time when I was approached by Simon and Schuster, based on the way it was presented to me. It wasn’t going to be an end-all to me career, like “This is what I’ve done.” Rather, it’s more focused on how I feel about all my experiences in life and what I’ve learned from them, while I’m still in the midst of my career. So, it’s almost like I’m sharing that, inviting people into my world and bringing them along on a journey that I’m still on.
KW: You suffered a half-dozen stress fractures in 2012. Did having the time to write while recuperating play a part in your decision?
MC: Absolutely! [Chuckles] I had a lot of time recovering from my surgery.
KW: The book is so well-written and you were so forthcoming that I already feel like I know you before speaking to you.
MC: Good! [Giggles]
KW: You didn’t begin with ballet until you were 13, and yet you’ve made it all the way to the top of the profession. That’s almost unheard of! How hard was that? MC: It’s extremely difficult, and not an approach I would recommend. But, at the time, I didn’t grasp what it was I was doing. It was just fun, it came naturally to me, and I enjoyed learning something new every single day. So, I didn’t think of it as difficult at the time.
KW: In the book, you talk about being blessed with a perfect ballerina’s body. Still I think of 13 as being around the age when most girls give up ballet.
MC: Yeah, definitely. My body was ideal for ballet at that time. I was also a very late bloomer in every way in my maturity. So, I was very much a little girl when I started ballet.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: What is your favorite role as a ballerina?
MC: I believe I am yet to dance my favorite role, but I am pretty open to adapting to different characters. Right now, I’ve really enjoyed doing the role of Swanhilde in Coppelia. I’ve had a great process so far finding the character and learning the steps. But I would love to be Odette/Odile in Swan Lake one day. I think that would be the ultimate role.
KW: Do you think audiences still expect the Swan to be played by a white female?
MC: I think that’s most people’s expectation and ideal, because that’s what they’ve always seen in ballet. It’s almost a subconscious thing that makes them think that only a white woman could portray that role. But she’s a swan, she’s a character, so I believe she can be any color.
KW: In the book, you have a recurring theme where you say, “This is for the little brown girls.” What do you mean by that?
MC: I feel like I represent every young dancer, and even non-dancer, who felt they were not accepted by the ballet world. I’d like to think that they can see themselves in me. So, every time I made that statement, I was sort of saying, “I’m doing this for you, so it will be easier for you.”
KW: You remind me a little of Venus and Serena Williams in how you came from a humble background. They learned to play tennis on public courts in L.A. and you were introduced to ballet, not at a prestigious program, but at your local Boys and Girls Club, also in LA. How did you manage to fare so well without any formal training before your teens?
MC: I think I always felt a connection to music and to movement. Growing up, I was surrounded by R&B and Hip-Hop, and the closest thing I could find to dance was gymnastics which I watched on TV. So, I just used those avenues I found available right in my milieu to express what was inside of me. Ballet was exactly what I was searching for, but my environment definitely made me the dancer and the person that I am today. And the Hip-Hop culture was a big part of it.
KW: What did it feel like to be ignored by the white ballerinas in your dance company when you arrived in New York at the age of 16?
MC: I felt isolated because I didn’t know what the reason was at that age. My being black had never been talked about in the studio where I trained in California. I was just another dancer. When I moved to Manhattan, I first thought I was being singled out because I had trained for such a short period of time. But I was the only black girl.
KW: What did you think of two popular ballet movies: Black Swan and The Company?
MC: The Company was interesting. I didn’t love it, although it might be compelling to someone who isn’t a dancer. There wasn’t a lot of dialogue, and you were just kind of observing the creative process of choreography and in class. My reaction to the film was, well, this is my everyday life which is not that interesting to watch up on the screen. However, Black Swan, I did enjoy. It was super theatrical and over the top. Plus, I’m a Natalie Portman fan. I wouldn’t say it was realistic, but I found it very entertaining.
KW: Harriet also asks: How much is your dancing a role influenced by the music—and do you have a favorite composer whose music just lifts you that much higher?
MC: I love Philip Glass. It’s so complicated, if you really listen to it. There’s so much happening in his music, yet there can be movement created that’s such a contrast to it, that makes for a very pleasant experience when you see dance with it. Yes, I’m definitely influenced by the music. We dance to music, and you have to listen to it, and phrase your dancing and movement in a certain way to compliment the music. We have to work hand in hand, the dancer and the music. It depends on how I’m listening to the music to make it work not just with the music but with the character I’m playing, because when you’re dancing, you have to act out mime, which tells the story. And the music reflects that mime. So, they kind of work together.
KW: Editor Lisa Loving asks: Who was your biggest influence?
MC: In the ballet world, I definitely have to give credit to Paloma Herrera, because I idolized her in my early years of training. She was everything for me. Then, getting to be in the company alongside her, to be able to face my idol and dance with her on the stage, was just amazing!
KW: Lisa also asks: What is the most surprising thing people should know about you?
MC: I think I’m pretty laid back. I like cooking, being at home, and going to concerts. And I love to shop!
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
MC: I make a good salmon dish in the broiler that I marinate from scratch with orange juice and soy sauce and scallions. I love fish!
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
MC: Oh, I love Helmut Lang! I love Stella McCartney and Diane von Furstenberg and Christian Louboutin shoes. I love too many designers!
KW: Speaking of shoes, I was surprised to learn from your book that a good pair of ballet shoes costs around $80.
MC: It takes a lot of money to be a part of the ballet world. Both the training and the supplies are expensive, the shoes, the leotards and the tights.
KW: I was also fascinated by the fact that your knees curve backwards.
MC: We call it hyper-extended. They’re beyond straight. And that creates a very pretty line in ballet.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
MC: I can’t think of one. [LOL] I’ve been asked a lot of questions throughout my career.
KW: Would you like to say something controversial that would get this interview tweeted?
MC: No. [Laughs]
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
MC: Seriously, mine.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
MC: On my way here, I listened to “Worst Behavior” by Drake. [Laughs] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00F6HL58I/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20
KW: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?
MC: Deciding to dance the part of the Firebird, even though I had six stress fractures.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
MC: A ballerina.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
MC: To have American ballet look like the rainbow.
KW: The Jamie Foxx question: If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend the time?
MC: Dancing, listening to music, and drinking wine. [Laughs]
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
MC: Playing with my siblings at about 5 years of age.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
MC: A dog.
KW: The Anthony Mackie question: Isthere anything that you promised yourself you’d do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
MC: No. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of that.
KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question:How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
MC: I think anything that affects me in my personal life is going to help me be a better artist on stage.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
MC: I definitely like to be natural and more relaxed and not wear a lot of makeup.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
MC: I’d fly!
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
MC: Striving for perfection.
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
MC: A chef.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
MC: To surround yourself with people who care about and support you. And to do it for yourself and because you love it.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
MC: For making a positive change in the ballet world.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Misty, and best of luck with both the book and with ballet. Now, I’m going to have to come and see you perform.
MC: Yes you do, Kam! Thank you.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Film Review by Kam Williams
Wes Anderson films are sui generis, one of a kind affairs as easy to identify as, say, a Thelonious Monk piano solo or a Frank Sinatra vocal. You can spot one of his works by watching just a snippet of celluloid.
Anderson’s latest offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel, not only stays true to his vibrant visuals and tongue-in-cheek narrative style but rates right up there with the best of the bunch, including Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Darjeeling Limited which was this critic’s pick as the #1 film of 2007.
Ralph Fiennes seems perfectly cast to play the picture’s protagonist, and he is ably assisted in that endeavor by a dramatis personae comprised of an abundance of Anderson alumni, including Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel, Waris Ahluwalia and Scott Rudin.
The droll dramedy is set in 1932 in the fictional Eastern European nation of Zubrowka which is where we find unctuous concierge Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes) playing his trade at the eponymous titular establishment. There, he lavishes his attention and affections on vulnerable ladies, provided they’re rich, blonde, elderly and needy. Narrating the blow-by-blow is Gustave’s game protégé, Zero (Tony Revolori), a loyal, lowly “Lobby Boy” learning the tricks of the trade.
Just past the point of departure, we learn that one of the hotel’s guests, Madame D. (Swinton), has just died mysteriously. A swarm of relatives, close and distant, show up for the reading of the wealthy widow’s will by her attorney (Brody), each hoping for a sizable chunk of the estate.
However, it turns out that the dearly departed left “Boy with Apple,” the only valuable painting in her entire art collection to the gigolo Gustave. So, when an autopsy reveals that Madam was poisoned with strychnine, he is summarily arrested and charged with murder.
It’s no long before he hatches an elaborate jailbreak with the help of Zero, and soon the chase is on, with the heirs, the authorities, a hired assassin (Dafoe), and even Nazis in hot pursuit, as Gustave desperately attempts to clear his badly-besmirched name so he can hold onto the priceless portrait.
A sublime whodunit designed for cinephiles with sophisticated palates.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and violence
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
To see a trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel, visit
Film Review by Kam Williams
Anybody with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible is undoubtedly familiar with the story of Noah and the Ark. That scriptural passage, found in Genesis, revolves around a righteous patriarch recruited by God to build a big boat before the arrival of a flood being meted out as divine punishment for man’s many wicked ways.
Heeding the word of the Lord, he proceeded to construct the mammoth vessel before herding two of each species of animal into the hold. It subsequently rained for 40 days and 40 nights, with water covering the entire Earth’s surface, thereby drowning all of humanity except for his family.
So, until now, the tale of Noah was basically a simple one about God’s decision to completely wipe the planet of sinners and start over. Leave it to Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (for Black Swan) to come up with a novel and intriguing reinterpretation of the popular parable recasting Noah as a complicated soul wrestling with inner demons during his quest to do the Lord’s bidding ahead of the impending deluge. The movie also has an ecological angle, plus some computer-generated monsters ostensibly designed to holds the kids’ interest.
The film stars Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe (for Gladiator) in the title role, and features a talented supporting cast which includes fellow Oscar-winners Jennifer Connelly (for A Beautiful Mind) and Anthony Hopkins (for The Silence of the Lambs), three-time nominee Nick Nolte (for Warrior, Affliction and The Prince of Tides), as well as Emma Watson and Ray Winstone.
The picture opens with what is essentially a Sunday school lesson, a refresher course about the creation of Adam (Adam Griffith) and Eve (Ariane Rinehart) who begat three sons: Cain, Abel and Seth. The evil one, Cain, slew his sibling Abel, and those descending from Cain’s demon seed continued to do the devil’s work by generally exploiting the planet’s natural resources.
Noah, by contrast, as a son of Seth, learned how to live in harmony with nature. He and his wife (Connelly) raised their sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and Ham (Logan Lerman), with the same eco-friendly philosophy.
Eventually, of course, Noah gets his marching orders from God, and the plot thickens when the steady drizzle develops into a neverending downpour. Suddenly, his nosy neighbors no longer see constructing an ark as such a nutty idea anymore, and it’s going to take a miracle like an army of animatronic angels to keep the desperate hordes from climbing aboard.
Meanwhile, a visibly-anguished Noah agonizes over what’s about to transpire, and consults his sage, berry-imbibing grandfather, Methuselah (Hopkins). But anticipatory survivor’s guilt ain’t about to alter God’s plan one iota.
An alternately introspective and breathtaking Biblical epic, every bit cerebral as it is panoramic!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive content and disturbing images
Running time: 138 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
To see a trailer for Noah, visit
Jews of Egypt
Film Review by Kam Williams
Did you notice that the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt a few years ago was followed soon thereafter by the torching of churches and the persecution of the Coptic Christians still residing in the country? This development would not be surprising to anyone familiar with the nation’s history, since Jews there had received even worse treatment at the hands of that fundamentalist group starting as far back in 1935.
Brotherhood spokesman Aly Naouito then proclaimed that, “When Jews live somewhere, they spread like cancer, and the economy only belongs to them.” His hateful propaganda campaign went on to accuse all Egyptian Jews of supporting the burgeoning Zionist Movement in neighboring Palestine.
Muslim Brotherhood-inspired anti-Semitism subsequently fomented widespread rage, leading to riots and the razing of synagogues. By 1948, a law had been passed directing Jews to convert to Islam. Those who failed to do so were jailed, lost their homes and businesses, and were pressured to apply for political asylum in Europe and elsewhere.
In October of 1956 the exodus escalated in the wake of a tripartite attack on an Egyptian port by England, France and Israel, ostensibly in response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal. At that juncture, any remaining Jews were stripped of their citizenship, and deported with no passport, nationality or birth certificate.
This harrowing ordeal is recounted in surprising detail via a combination of archival footage and present-day interviews in Jews of Egypt, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Amir Ramses. Most of the movie’s subjects are aging survivors who had been children when banished many decades ago. Yet, some still bemoan the fact that they remain barred from even visiting the once-beloved homeland where they spent their formative years.
The focus of this fascinating film is not merely the religious tensions in Egypt which unfolded over the course of the first half of the 20th Century. The picture devotes just as much attention to the considerable contributions made by Jews to the country’s cultural and industrial development.
A priceless history lesson for anyone interested in understanding the back story explaining how formerly-tolerant Egypt evolved into the religious state it is today.
Excellent (4 stars)
In Arabic and French with subtitles
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: ArtMattan Productions
To see a trailer for Jews of Egypt, visit
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
Film Review by Kam Williams
Born on June 27, 1915, Grace Lee was raised in New York by modest immigrant parents from a humble Chinese background. Her mother couldn’t read or write English, although her business-minded father did save up enough cash by 1924 to open up his own restaurant, Chin Lee’s, on Broadway.
Meanwhile, Grace was a precocious wunderkind who entered Barnard College at just 16. And after graduating, she went on to earn a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr in philosophy.
However, when she subsequently attempted to pursue a professional career, prejudice reared its ugly head, as she found her horizons severely limited by the fact that she was Asian and female. She ended up moving to Chicago where she could barely make ends meet, eking out a living on $10/ week as a librarian. As for housing, the best she could afford was a rat-infested basement apartment in the ‘hood.
That experience help served to radicalize Grace who developed a lifelong empathy for the downtrodden. In the Midwest, she also met and married Jimmy Boggs an African-American activist from the South who shared her progressive political agenda.
The couple settled in Detroit where, as local civil rights leaders, they lobbied on behalf of the poor. In addition, they brought such black icons to speak there as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Even after Jimmy passed away, Grace has, for decades, remained resolutely committed to both The Movement and her adopted hometown.
All of the above is lovingly chronicled in American Revolutionary, a reverential biopic directed by Grace Lee (no relation). Though now nearly 99, the incendiary centenarian remains as fiery as ever and has made precious few concessions to age.
The picture includes glowing tributes from fellow firebrands like Angela Davis and Bill Ayers. But what most makes the movie worthwhile is merely watching Grace wax romantic about the good ole days while walking around the ruins of a devastated Motor City.
A cinematic primer on how to make a mark on the world.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Distributor: First Pond Entertainment
To see a trailer for American Revolutionary, visit