Stanley Nelson

NASHVILLE, TN — Stanley Nelson’s Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is the centerpiece of a yearlong multi-platform effort called HBCU Rising. Nelson is an award-winning documentarian whose work is known for examining the history and experiences of African Americans. His most notable films are The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer, Wounded Knee, Jonestown: The Life & Death of People’s Temple, and The Murder of Emmett Till.

His latest film, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, making it his ninth festival premiere, more than any other nonfiction filmmaker. Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities will air nationally on the acclaimed PBS series, Independent Lens in early 2018.

With multiple industry awards, Nelson is acknowledged as one of the premier documentary filmmakers working today. Mr. Nelson will be coming to Nashville, April 27th for the “FISK & FILM A Scholarship Fundraiser” event at the Belcourt Theater. The event will include the screening of ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ film, followed by a Q&A session hosted by News Channel 5’s Vicki Yates, with guests Stanley Nelson and Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president UNCF.

TRIBUNE:  I understand your film was well received at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. S. NELSON: “Our first screening at Sundance was in January when Sundance is in Park City, Utah, high up in the mountains. It was in the middle of a four-day snowstorm. I had never seen anything like it, it snowed for four straight days. But the screening was sold out. The theater was ninety-five percent full.  We got a standing ovation. It was incredible. One of the things that Sundance does is, it holds a series of screenings for high school students in Salt Lake City.  Buses bring the students into the theatre over the whole two-week course of Sundance. So, the high school students voted ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ as their favorite film in the festival, so that was great. And we’re talking about students that are probably ninety-five percent white.  So, for them to see a film on black colleges be voted the favorite film of white kids in Utah, is just an amazing testament to the film and the story’s power.

TRIBUNE:  In your opinion, what is the role of HBCUs in today’s political and social landscape? S. NELSON:” I think we need HBCUs. So many African American students still receive kind of an inferior high school education, and they’re looking to go to college to get a higher education. I think also, given the political climate, you have people who are choosing to attend HBCUs. It’s kind of the only black intellectual safe space in this country. But a lot of HBCUs are seeing kind of an uptick in applications over the last few years, as people choose to go to HBCUs because they want a safe space where they can discuss their lives, and issues that are important to African Americans. So, I think that HBCUs still have a great role in this country’s education system. Until racism is ended in this country, we’re going to need HBCUs.”

TRIBUNE:  What are you hoping that viewers will walk away with after viewing ‘Tell Them We Are Rising.’ Respondent: There’s so much in the film that I think most people don’t know. Especially the role of HBCUs throughout history. We cover a huge piece of history, a hundred and fifty/sixty years in an hour and a half. It’s an excellent story. We tell seven or eight distinct stories throughout the history of HBCUs.  I think we have great characters, great footage, great, beautiful pictures that we got from the HBCUs themselves, including a number of pictures that we got in connection with Fisk University. 

TRIBUNE: After the doc airs on PBS next year, are there plans to specifically tour the film at HBCU colleges and universities? S. NELSON: “Yes, we’re actually going to tour some HBCUs before it airs on PBS. So, starting in early fall, and during homecoming through February, we want to try and get every HBCU we possibly can. We want to show the film at every HBCU, and have the HBCUs in this country really be part of getting that film out to the alumni. Somebody has called this film kind of a love letter to HBCUs and in a way, that’s what it is. In some ways, it’s critical, but on a whole, it’s a very complimentary look at HBCUs. My parents went to HBCUs, and HBCUs are really responsible for me having whatever life I have and my siblings are having the life that they now have. Like so many black people in this country, HBCUs have changed my life for the best.”

TRIBUNE: What is the next project from you? S. NELSON: There are a lot of things kind of floating around, but this film is part of a trilogy called ‘America Revisited.’ The first film was ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’. The next film was HBCUs, ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’, and then the third film is a four-hour piece on the Atlantic Slave Trade, that kind of looks at the business of slavery and how that affected the whole world. We’re looking forward to starting work on that real soon.”


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