NEW YORK (AP) — The late Ruby Dee was many things — an artist, an activist and a pioneer of stage and screen. But she was also something equally important — a grandmother.
A new documentary packed with Dee’s life lessons has been created by one of her grandsons, and it offers a very personal look at the widely admired woman.
Muta’Ali Muhammad, grandson of Dee and Ossie Davis, filmed Dee talking about everything from what was in her detailed FBI file to her opinion of open marriages. He hopes others will be encouraged to do the same.
“This piece has served as an inspiration and an excuse to those people who have wanted to record interviews with their loved ones,” Muhammad said this week.
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“I think grandpa and grandma Ruby would really like that because the No. 1 thing that they wanted me to know was you have richness when you have family.”
The film, “Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee,” will make its small-screen debut on the BET-owned Centric TV on Sunday and will then be released Feb. 1 on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.
Dee’s long career earned her an Emmy, a Grammy, two Screen Actors Guild awards, the NAACP Image Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Art and the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
She received an Oscar nomination at 83 for best supporting actress for her role in the 2007 film “American Gangster” and was celebrated for her 57-year marriage with Davis. She died at age 91 in 2014.
The film includes family photos and memorabilia, as well as appearances of Alan Alda, Angela Bassett, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Hill Harper, Samuel Jackson, Spike Lee, S. Epatha Merkerson, Phylicia Rashad, Glynn Turman, Cornel West, Sonia Sanchez and Malik Yoba.
Muhammad, who has made seven feature-length documentaries, got the idea of making one about Dee after his grandfather died in 2005.
“It left me with that feeling that seems to be universal when an elder passes away — you regret not having taken the time to sit with them and talk with them about important, deep things.”
But Dee rejected a traditional documentary until Muhammad floated the idea of framing it as a grandmother passing along her values and jewels of wisdom to her grandson.
“She really latched on to that because family is so important to her and she felt like a story like that can really strengthen the bonds in any family. Anyone who watched it might be inspired to connect and talk with their elders.”
Muhammad started interviewing Dee in November 2011 and would eventually move in with her, scheduling six or seven hour-long chunks of time to ask her views on camera. He structured it in three sections — love, art and activism.
But Dee was no softie when it came to her grandson.
“She was tough on me!” said Muhammad, laughing. “She critiqued my interview style!”