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The Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

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Becoming Frida Kahlo, a new three-part documentary series, strips away the myths to reveal the real Frida—a passionate and brilliant artist living through extraordinary times. Becoming Frida Kahlo premieres Tuesdays, September 19—October 3 on Nine PBS,, and the PBS App in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Tuesdays, beginning September 19, at 8 pm on Nine PBS and livestream.

An extraordinary legacy of a woman defying expectations

The series explores the major events of Kahlo’s life, both personal and political, from her lifelong health problems to her complicated relationship with artist Diego Rivera, whom she married not once but twice. Their shared political commitment made both artists controversial figures—from their association with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico to their paradoxical relationships with some of America’s wealthiest figures. 

Throughout her life Kahlo used her artwork to process her own emotions, producing what are now some of the most valuable—and most widely reproduced—paintings of the 20th century. 

Episode Guide:

The Making and Breaking | Sep 19

The series premiere tells the story of the young Frida growing up in a time of revolution, from her rebellious school days to an encounter with the man who would change her life: Diego Rivera, then one of the world’s most famous artists. When a tragic accident thwarts Frida’s ambition of becoming a doctor, young Frida spends many lonely months recuperating and discovers a new passion: painting. When she finally ventures out again into Mexico City, it has become a thriving hub for artists and intellectuals from all over the world. The ambitious young Frida tracks down the renowned Rivera, and his response sets her on a new path as an artist. Becoming entranced by the politically radical and sexually liberated photographer and former Hollywood actress, Tina Modotti, Frida sees Rivera again at one of her parties and marries him six months later. Although very much in love, she soon discovers that life with Diego, 20 years her senior, isn’t all wedded bliss; there are many other women in his life, and his work always comes first.

Love and Loss | Sep 26

San Francisco is abuzz with excitement at the arrival of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and Frida’s ultra-Mexican style catches the attention of celebrities and photographers. With Diego constantly working and determined to succeed in her own right and in the face of his many affairs, she paints a powerful marriage portrait, “Frida and Diego Rivera,” which is selected for exhibition. In Depression-era New York, she meets fellow artist Georgia O’Keeffe who deeply inspires her, and they kindle a romantic relationship. Later in Detroit because of a commission Diego receives, Frida learns she’s pregnant and her worst fears are confirmed when she loses her child. She spends 13 days in the hospital with her close friend Lucienne Bloch by her side and turns once more to her art and paints “Henry Ford Hospital,” a devastating portrait of her miscarriage and loss. Tragedy continues when she learns her mother has fallen ill and later dies, leading her to create one of her most powerful paintings: “My Birth.” Meanwhile, in New York City, Diego takes another controversial commission at the newly built Rockefeller Center. Pushing the boundary too far for his American patrons, he paints Vladimir Lenin into the new mural. This original mural is hacked off the walls by order of the Rockefellers, with images of it only surviving through Frida’s own photographs. Upon their return to Mexico, Diego begins an affair with Frida’s sister, Cristina.

A Star Is Born | Oct 3

On the run from Stalin, Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky arrives in Mexico, and Frida begins a short-lived affair with him. Meeting the influential leader of the Surrealist movement, Andre Breton, Frida impresses him and ventures to Paris to find Europe on the brink of war and that the exhibition Breton had promised her was not what she had expected it to be. Disappointed with Breton, Frida finds solace in a relationship with his wife, Jacqueline. Finally returning to Mexico after months away, Frida discovers Diego’s shocking affair with her sister, and he asks for a divorce. Once more, she pours her pain into her work, and creates a masterpiece, “The Two Fridas.” When Diego is implicated in an attempt to take Trotsky’s life, he flees to San Francisco, leaving Frida in Mexico City where she’s eventually arrested. When Diego realizes that Frida’s health is failing, he begs her to join him, and the pair reconcile and remarry. Frida’s health continues to deteriorate, and she spends her last years of life in excruciating pain, often confined to bed in a steel corset. She continues to paint and produces works that speak to her trauma, pain, and artistic genius. She dies in 1954 at the age of 47, leaving an extraordinary legacy of a woman defying expectations, experiencing extremes of love and loss, and creating some of the most enduring art of the 20th century.

Schedule is subject to change.

Original funding for Becoming Frida Kahlo is provided by the BBC, BBC Studios, and PBS broadcast and distribution is made possible by Viewers Like You.