Documentaries on the Groundbreaking Work & Life of Ursula K. Le Guin & Four Other Trailblazing Artists, Streaming Free this Week

What sort of art will emerge from this unprece­dent­ed moment in his­to­ry, when the glob­al coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment grew expo­nen­tial­ly, and syn­chro­nous­ly.

And not to pre­sume, but to hope, what will humans think of that lit­er­a­ture in 50 or 100 years’ time?

Over the course of a not quite hour-long Amer­i­can Mas­ters episode devot­ed to author Ursu­la LeGuin, flux emerges as a major theme of the sci­ence fic­tion pioneer’s life and work.

The youngest child of A.L. Kroe­ber, the founder of aca­d­e­m­ic anthro­pol­o­gy, LeGuin, who died in 2018, crit­i­cized her­self for hav­ing been slow to open her eyes to the injus­tice around her.

It became a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion in sto­ries like The Ones Who Walk Away from Ome­las, a thought exper­i­ment in which the read­er must con­sid­er the ethics of a pros­per­ous hap­py soci­ety, whose good for­tune depends on the suf­fer­ing of a cap­tive child.

The Dis­pos­sessed arose from her curios­i­ty as to what “a gen­uine, work­ing anar­chist soci­ety (would) be like.”

(Answer: flawed, like every oth­er human soci­ety.)

One of her best known books, The Left Hand of Dark­ness, pub­lished in 1969, pre­fig­ured the com­ing bat­tle for gen­der equal­i­ty, and so much more, by cre­at­ing a tru­ly gen­der flu­id world in which the androg­y­nous inhab­i­tants’ month­ly peri­ods of sex­u­al activ­i­ty con­ferred tem­porar­i­ly male or female bio­log­i­cal sta­tus at ran­dom.

It was hailed as a fem­i­nist ground­break­er, but as time went on, LeGuin found her­self in hot water for hav­ing gone with the mas­cu­line pro­noun as a default way of refer­ring to her androg­y­nous char­ac­ters:

At first, I felt a lit­tle bit defen­sive, but, as I thought about it, I began to see my crit­ics were right. I was com­ing up against how I write about gen­der equal­i­ty.

My job is not to arrive at a final answer and just deliv­er it.

I see my job as hold­ing doors open or open­ing win­dows, but who comes in and out the doors? What do you see out the win­dow? How do I know?

The book is still in print, should new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers feel com­pelled to plumb the text for prob­lem­at­ic pas­sages. Why should the many reflec­tions, essays, and think pieces that marked the 50th anniver­sary of its pub­li­ca­tion be the last word?

Worlds of Ursu­la K. Le Guin is avail­able to stream for free on PBS through Mon­day August 31, along with four oth­er Amer­i­can Mas­ters episodes fea­tur­ing artists who, like Le Guin, broke the exist­ing molds:

Ter­rence McNal­ly: Every Act of Life

Over a six-decade career, four-time Tony-win­ner and out­spo­ken LGBTQ activist Ter­rence McNal­ly wrote dozens of trail­blaz­ing plays, musi­cals, operas and screen­plays about sex­u­al­i­ty, homo­pho­bia, faith, and the pow­er of art.

Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage

The charis­mat­ic actor from Puer­to Rico was cel­e­brat­ed for the range and ver­sa­til­i­ty he brought to roles on stage and screen, from Shake­speare­an plays to the “The Addams Fam­i­ly.” Though his career was cut short by his death at age 54, he paved the way for gen­er­a­tions of Lat­inx actors.

Rothko: Pic­tures Must be Mirac­u­lous

One of the most influ­en­tial artists of the 20th cen­tu­ry, Mark Rothko’s sig­na­ture style helped define Abstract Expres­sion­ism. The cel­e­brat­ed painter’s lumi­nous paint­ings now set records at auc­tion, and are seen by mil­lions in Lon­don, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and at the famous Rothko Chapel in Hous­ton.

Scott Moma­day: Words from a Bear

A for­ma­tive voice of the Native Amer­i­can Renais­sance in art and lit­er­a­ture, author and poet N. Scott Moma­day was the first Native Amer­i­can to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Here’s to ever-evolv­ing worlds, and acknowl­edg­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of those who helped make this change pos­si­ble.

Stream the five PBS Amer­i­can Mas­ters episodes men­tioned above for free through the end of August here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Ursu­la K. Le Guin’s Dai­ly Rou­tine: The Dis­ci­pline That Fueled Her Imag­i­na­tion

Ursu­la K. Le Guin Names the Books She Likes and Wants You to Read

Hear Neil Gaiman Read a Beau­ti­ful, Pro­found Poem by Ursu­la K. Le Guin to His Cousin on Her 100th Birth­day

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (11)
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  • Diane denis says:

    Because I live in Nepal I can­not access Ursu­la Le Guin’s video, can you do some­thing to make it avail­able?

  • byunghee Lee says:

    I am in Korea. Also I hope I can watch the doc­u­men­tary about Ursu­la Le Guin. Is there any (oth­er) way to get the stream­ing ser­vice?

  • Emil says:

    it’s only for the view­ing plea­sure of “all glo­ri­ous” ‘muri­cans.
    like they real­ly care about ursu­la.

  • Rebecca Ings says:

    I am in Cana­da and can­not watch. Why is this? Very sad.

  • Robyn Sharwood says:

    I’m in South Africa and can­not watch this.

  • Peter Mortensen says:

    I´m a Dane who has been a life­long fan of Le Guin, so obvi­ous­ly I would love to watch this doc­u­men­tary. But it doesn´t seem avail­able here in Den­mark — is there any way it can be (made) avail­able to me?

  • RitaB. says:

    I live in Italy, I would love to see the doc­u­men­tary, but I can­not access it! What a pity!

  • Marcela A. Gaitan says:

    Well, I am in Buenos Aires, Argenti­na and I could not see the video either. But I read that Nor in Europe, Asia, Africa and NOT EVEN CANADA, nobody COULD DO IT? Whay a pit­ty for all the UKL life­long fans world­wide!!!

  • Sybilla from Poland says:

    I also can’t watch it from Poland. Why don’t you write from the begin­ning you hava put restric­tions and movie IS NOT AVAILABLE for every­body who wants to watch it?

  • HelenS says:

    For me it says “This video is only avail­able in KCTS 9 Pass­port.
    KCTS 9 Pass­port is an added mem­ber­ship ben­e­fit that pro­vides extend­ed access to qual­i­ty PBS stream­ing video.”

    KCTS is my local PBS sta­tion.

  • Luther Bliss says:

    This is why “pira­cy” is the only real option for dis­trib­ut­ing and pre­serv­ing media.

    The West­ern world is so full of IP par­a­sites that even ‘pub­licly-fund­ed’ media is inac­ces­si­ble to 98% of peo­ple.

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