Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

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Photo caption

Sammy Davis, Jr. backstage photo from the documentary SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME.

Photo Credit: The Estate of Altovise Davis

NEH-funded documentary Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me  premieres February 19, 2019 on PBS. 

American Masters – Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me is the first major film documentary to examine the performer’s vast career and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America. Sammy Davis, Jr., had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, vast in scope and scale. And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was a veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions and worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America. Davis was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to that of another persecuted minority. In Duke Ellington’s words, he was “beyond category.”

Featuring exclusive interviews with Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and rare footage from his performances in television, film and concert, American Masters explores the life and art of a uniquely-gifted entertainer whose trajectory paralleled the major flashpoints of American society, from the Depression through the 1980s. The PBS broadcast also features 20 minutes of exclusive bonus performance footage spanning Davis’ 50-year-career after the documentary.

American Masters is thrilled to share Sammy Davis, Jr.’s incredible story with a wide national audience on PBS,” said Michael Kantor, American Masters Executive Producer. “He was revered as the consummate entertainer, but it is not well known that he was the first African-American to be invited by a president to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House, and shared the first interracial kiss in a Broadway play. He was a pioneer.”

Produced with support from a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, was shown at numerous film festivals including DOC NYC and garnered multiple awards, including the Jury Prize and Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, the Audience Award at the Nashville Film Festival 2018 and Best Documentary Feature at the Louisiana International Film Festival.

American Masters – Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me premieres Tuesday, February 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
and streams Wednesday, February 20 via and PBS apps