Stating that “those who have the power to tell the story create the meaning of that story,” and that “the brutal killing of George Floyd may have ignited the protests. But it was the COVID-19 pandemic that re-arranged the firewood,” acclaimed documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson powerfully argues in this Op-Ed that the ones to tell the story of today are the African-Americans and others of color….but that them doing so “is not a foregone conclusion.”
Nelson, whose long career has largely been films on the rarely-told stories of the African-American experience, has roots in Indianapolis. His mother, A’lelia Ransom Nelson was the last President of the Madame C.J. Walker Mfg. Company. The Ransom family is still very much a presence in our city and I have had the privilege to meet some of them in the past. I am quite the fan girl of Stanley Nelson’s films, never missing a new premiere. One year, I trudged 30 minutes through a driving snow storm at Sundance to see his newest film. Standing there, literally dripping head to toe with melting snow, Stanley walked by and as we greeted each other, he was incredulous, probably thinking I was insane. His films, no matter the topic, are worth it. Look up his filmography and seek out his films on all manner of fascinating topics. Most are available on streaming and no trudging through a snowstorm is required.
This Op-Ed resonated with me as despite his efforts and that of Firelight Media, a production company he runs with his wife Marcia Smith, offering Filmmaker Labs for those from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities, shockingly few of these filmmakers break through the funding and access barriers. Stating accurately that “no American institution has perpetuated our racial hierarchy, racist attitudes, and myths that twist the truth of our history more than film and television,” Nelson bemoans the sad fact that while many will agree that African-Americans and people of color should be the ones to tell the story of the moment of national reckoning, its likelihood is in doubt. We are all complicit.
Click below to read Stanley’s Op-Ed and think of how you, even though you’re not a film exec, can advocate for the talented Black filmmakers in our midst and the imperative that it is they who tell the story of today.
Louise Henderson, Executive Director