New KET documentary honors legacy of trailblazing Black Ky. feminist, author bell hooks
A new documentary from KET examines the life and legacy of groundbreaking Black Kentucky writer and feminist bell hooks.
“Becoming bell hooks” traces the late author’s personal history, taking viewers through her childhood in her native Hopkinsville, her relationship with and return to Kentucky in the early 2000s and her writings – which focused largely on feminism, race and class.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, hooks’ lowercase pen name is an homage to her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. The author styled it in lowercase letters to underscore, she reasoned, the “substance of books, not who I am.”
Throughout her career, hooks would write more than 30 books examining topics like feminist theory, Black masculinity, film, cultural criticism, class, education and politics. After returning to Kentucky, hooks joined the faculty of Berea College – which now houses the bell hooks center – east of Lexington. She lived in Berea until her death in 2021 from kidney failure.
Some of her poetry, essays and books helped lay the path for intersectional feminism, which recognizes that “all the aspects of identity enrich women's lived experiences and compound and complicate the various oppressions and marginalizations women face.” Documentary co-director and co-producer Sarah Moyer said hooks’ writing fits into that school of thought.
“bell hooks says feminism is for everyone. No matter your identity, your gender identity, or where you come from, who you are, that feminism is something that is useful to you and is beneficial in living a whole and full life,” said Moyer.
Elon Justice – who co-produced and co-directed with Moyer – said hooks’ wrote about her “hillbilly” roots in “Belonging: A Culture of Place” and challenged the “inherent whiteness” of Kentucky in "Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place.”
“We tried to connect the dots between her roots in Kentucky and the influence that her upbringing had on the theories and ideas that she was writing about later in life,” Justice said.
The documentary will feature interviews with many of hooks’ close friends and family, including her sister Gwenda Motley, feminist activist Gloria Steinem and Kentucky writers Crystal Wilkinson and Silas House. Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer will read hooks' work throughout the film.
KET will hold the premiere broadcast of “Becoming bell hooks” on Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. CST. Two free screenings of the film will also be held later this month – at Lexington’s Lyric Theatre on Feb. 20 and at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum on Feb. 22.