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Stanley Nelson: 5 Things You Should Know

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Stanley Nelson is an award winning documentary filmmaker, with a unique perspective examining African-American history and experiences. We have come to know Nelson over his 30 years of documenteering, producing, and directing. Throughout his career, his focus has been to share stories of those excluded from mainstream narratives and become a driving force in highlighting the need to include diverse perspectives, stories and representation in media. His vision and truth have come to fruition in films like Boss: The Black Experience in Business (2019), Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (2017), Freedom Summer (2014), Freedom Riders (2010), Wounded Knee (2009), and The Murder of Emmett Till (2003). 

Nelson's films have illuminated stories and histories of those who have been denied a voice, but Nelson's personal story is just as powerful. Here are five things to know about Stanley Nelson:

  1. Recipient of the 2013 National Humanities Medal from President Obama 
    The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens' engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects. In selecting Nelson, the committee honored him for “exposing injustice and triumph while revealing new depths of our Nation’s history.” Nelson was honored in 2013 alongside 9 other honorees including literary critic M. H. Abrams and renowned radio host Diane Rehm.
  2. Recipient of multiple Primetime Emmy Awards 
    In 2003, Nelson won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming for PBS’ The American Experience, for the episode The Murder Of Emmett Till. In 2011, Freedom Riders won two Emmy awards for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming and Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. And, in 2015 Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution won an Emmy Award for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. 
  3. Received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the News & Documentary Emmy Awards 
    In 2016, The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced that Nelson would be the honoree of the annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards’ Lifetime Achievement. He was honored for his mastery of the craft of the documentary, particularly the historical documentary, and for his distinguished body of films exploring the many facets of the African American experience. The honor is bestowed annually on a journalist or filmmaker who has made a lasting and distinguished contribution to broadcast journalism or documentary film. 
  4. Co-founder and Executive Director of Firelight Media - a nonprofit focusing on supporting emerging documentations
    Founded in 1998 by Nelson, Firelight Media is a premier destination for non-fiction cinema by and about communities of color. Firelight’s mission is to produce documentary films, support emerging filmmakers of color, and cultivate audiences for their work. As Stanley reminds us in his films, there is more than meets the eye to every story. With Nelson’s life in mind, that statement stands true. Not only has Nelson dedicated his life to sharing truth in film, he has been recognized and acted on that truth as well.
  5. MacArthur "Genius" Fellow
    Nelson was awarded the MacArthur "genius" award for synthesizing biography, history, and culture in signature portrayals of the African American experience. 
“I believe that people need to tell their own stories and that those stories are colored by who you are. I tell stories that are colored by growing up in the African-American community. I think it’s important that people make films about their own culture and African-American filmmakers don’t [always] get the chance. White filmmakers are swimming in the water but are skimming the surface. We make better films about ourselves than other people can.”

Empowering Students to Create Change - A Virtual Experience 

On Tuesday May 5th, you can join the award winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, along with PBS Digital Innovator All-Stars and PBS Kids Early Learning Champions, for a unique virtual experience, Empowering Students to Create Change. Explore ways in which educators can act as catalysts for students to explore their truths and make change in our world. For more information and to register for this free event, click here.

Will Tolliver

Will Tolliver Early Learning Champion

William Tolliver is a Pittsburgh-based leader, innovator, and change-maker, serving as Manager of Early Childhood Learning at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The environment, communities, and our future leaders inspire Will to ignite new perspectives around the globe. Will has contributed to various projects and has lent his skills to grant writing, project implementation and management, curriculum development, event planning, tutoring and mentoring, and even incubating new innovations. More than anything, he wants to share his passion for the environment, education, and entrepreneurship with all those he encounters. It is his hope to build new collaborations and to guide those who wish to engage and educate their audiences in innovative ways. Will holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies with a minor in Anthropology and Community and Justice Studies from Allegheny College.

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