October 13, 2022

Beyond Resilience Masterclass: The Making of Tubman/Douglass

On Thursday, October 13 from 4-6pm ET, Firelight Media hosted a Beyond Resilience Masterclass, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, on the making of the PBS documentaries Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass, which featured a special appearance by actor Wendell Pierce who voices Frederick Douglass.

The new documentaries Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass, commissioned by Maryland Public Television for PBS and co-directed and produced by Stanley Nelson and Nicole London, shed light on the lives of a pair of towering icons in the struggle to end slavery. This virtual, three-part Masterclass will center on the making of the two films through conversations with the filmmakers, the co-writers, and Wendell Pierce, the voice of Frederick Douglass. The conversation will be moderated by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University.

Part One: Voice acting for documentaries, featuring Wendell Pierce in conversation with filmmaker Stanley Nelson.

Part Two: Scripting documentaries, featuring Stanley Nelson, Marcia Smith, and Nicole London.

Part Three: Archival documentary filmmaking featuring Stanley Nelson, Nicole London, and a historian featured in the films.

Moderator: Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University

Panelists:

  • Stanley Nelson, Director and producer, Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass
  • Nicole London, Co-Director and producer, Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass
  • Wendell Pierce, Voice of Frederick Douglass in Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass
  • Marcia Smith, Co-writer, Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom

Accessibility notice: This event includes live closed captions.

Beyond Resilience Masterclasses, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, focus on deeply-researched historical documentary films by and about BIPOC communities. This Masterclass will be conducted via YouTube Live, enabling participants to submit questions throughout the event through an extended Q&A session. Registrants are encouraged to submit questions for the panelists in advance via the RSVP page.

Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom is a nuanced portrait of the woman known as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, who risked her own freedom and life to liberate others from slavery. The film is now streaming via PBS and the PBS Video App. Learn more.

Becoming Frederick Douglass is the story of how a man born into slavery became one of the most prominent statesmen and influential voices for democracy in American history. The film is now streaming via PBS and the PBS Video App. Learn more.

Participant Bios:

Wendell Pierce has established himself as a prolific award-winning actor with a body of work onstage, television, and film for more than three decades. Universally hailed for his portrayal of ‘Det. Bunk Moreland’ on HBO’s groundbreaking series THE WIRE, Mr. Pierce was also praised for his starring role of“Antoine Baptiste” on David Simon’s critically acclaimed series, TREMÉ. He currently stars as ‘James Greer’ in Amazon’s international hit series TOM CLANCY’S JACK RYAN, alongside John Krasinski. Mr.Pierce returns to Broadway in Fall 2022 to reprise his portrayal of “Willy Loman” in DEATH OF A SALESMAN after receiving a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play in London for the West End production. Wendell made his Broadway debut as “Boy Willie” in August Wilson’s PIANO LESSON. His other Broadway credits include Carol Churchill’s SERIOUS MONEY andJohn Pielmeier’s BOYS OF WINTER. Other theater credits include COST OF LIVING (Williamstown, 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), BROKEOLOGY(Lincoln Center), ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE, CYMBELINE, TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, TARTUFFE (New York Shakespeare Festival), WAITING FOR GODOT, THE CHERRY ORCHARD (Classical Theater of Harlem), and THE OEDIPUS CYCLE (Theatre Herod Atticus, Athens). In film, Wendell’s wide-ranging work includes Ava Duvernay’s SELMA, Taylor Hackford’s RAY, Spike Lee’s MALCOLM X and GET ON THE BUS, Forest Whittaker’s WAITING TO EXHALE, and Sundance Grand Jury PrizeWinner CLEMENCY, to name a few. On television, Wendell is recognized as “Robert Zane” on USA Network’s SUITS and had recurring roles on Showtime’s RAY DONOVAN and NBC’s CHICAGO PD. He appeared in HBO’s award-winning CONFIRMATION as “ClarenceThomas” and BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, based on the #1 New Times bestseller by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A Juilliard alum and a 1981 White House Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Wendell is the recipient of several awards, including the Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in the Theater, the Tribeca Film Festival Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of “Rev. Tillman” in the drama BURNING CANE, for which he also received Independent Spirit and Gotham award nominations; a Tony Award as a producer of CLYBOURNE PARK; and Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Image Award for his role of ‘Slick’ in the HBO drama, LIFE SUPPORT, opposite Queen Latifah. Wendell is co-owner of Equity Media, the new ownership group of WBOK 1230AM, a 70-year-old legacyBlack talk radio station in New Orleans and the oldest Black-owned radio station in Louisiana. Wendell is the author of his memoir titled The Wind in the Reeds.

 Nicole London is an Emmy® Award-winning and GRAMMY® -nominated producer and director who began her career as an associate producer at PBS's To The Contrary and local stations in Maryland and has gone on to work on many projects with the top directors in documentary film. She was an associate producer for AMERICAN MASTERS Marvin Gaye: What's Going On; Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me; POV's American Promise; and INDEPENDENT LENS' The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which was nominated for a 2016 Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking Emmy. She served as a producer on Life & Life and Netflix's Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy, directed by Stanley Nelson. She was also the producer for Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, for which she was nominated for a 2020 GRAMMY for Best Music Film, and which won the 2021 News Documentary Emmy for Outstanding Arts and Culture Documentary. In 2021, she was honored as a Trailblazer at the 22nd Annual African American Women In Cinema Film Festival. She is currently directing a new project for AMERICAN MASTERS slated for 2023.

Stanley Nelson is today’s leading documentarian of the African American experience. His films combine compelling narratives with rich historical detail to shine new light on the under-explored American past. Awards received over the course of his career include a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, five Primetime Emmy Awards, and lifetime achievement awards from the Emmys and IDA. In 2013, Nelson received the National Medal in the Humanities from President Obama. In 2019, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool was nominated by the GRAMMYs for Best Music Film and went on to win two Emmy® Awards at the 42nd Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards. Nelson’s latest documentaries Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass will premiere on PBS in October 2022. His previous documentary Attica, for SHOWTIME Documentary Films, was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 94th Academy Awards® and earned him the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary. In 2021, Nelson also directed the feature film Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy for Netflix, which was a 2022 duPont-Columbia Awards Finalist, and Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, with co-director Marco Williams, for the HISTORY Channel, which was nominated for three Primetime Emmy® Awards. In 2000, Mr. Nelson, and his wife, Marcia Smith, co-founded Firelight Media, a non-profit production company dedicated to advancing contemporary social justice issues, amplifying underrepresented narratives, and fostering a new generation of diverse filmmakers.

Marcia Smith is president and co-founder of Firelight Media, which produces documentary films, provides artistic and financial support to emerging filmmakers of color, and builds impact campaigns to connect documentaries to audiences and social justice advocates. Under her leadership, Firelight Media was honored with a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Firelight Media’s flagship Documentary Lab program has supported more than 100 emerging filmmakers over the past decade, who have premiered at festivals such as Sundance and Tribeca, and have gone on to earn numerous festival, Peabody, and Emmy awards.

She has written several films alongside documentarian Stanley Nelson including: Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom; Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities; Through the Fire: The Legacy of Barack Obama; Freedom Riders; Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple; Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind; and The Murder of Emmett Till. Marcia received a Primetime Emmy nomination and won the Writers’ Guild Award for best nonfiction writing for her work on The Murder of Emmett Till, and was honored with a 2016 Muse Award from New York Women in Film & Television, as well as the 2019 Luminary Award from BlackStar Film Festival. Marcia will also serve as the writer for Firelight’s upcoming 4-hour documentary series, Creating The New World, on the transatlantic slave trade. Marcia is a member of AMPAS, currently sits on the Peabody Board of Directors - East Coast, and is a member of the Board for Martha's Vineyard Film Society and the International Documentary Association.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. Her work focuses on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American women's history. Her first book, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (2008), was the first book to chronicle the lives of African American women in the North during the early years of the Republic and the years leading to the Civil War. Her most recent books include Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (2017), a finalist for the National Book Award, and She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman (2019).

Program Notes:

  • Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom is available to stream for free via PBS for a limited time.
  • Becoming Frederick Douglass is available to stream for free via PBS for a limited time.
  • Wendell Pierce references the "Fugitive Slave Law," which empowered the government and everyday “slave catchers” to recapture any previously enslaved people and return them to their former enslavers. This clip from Becoming Frederick Douglass provides more background on the law.
  • A photo of a younger Harriet Tubman was discovered in 2019. View the photo and learn more via Smithsonian Magazine.
  • Read Douglass's speech "What To the Slave is the 4th of July" in full via PBS.org.
  • Learn more about Professor Erica Armstrong Dunbar's work, including her book She Came To Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman, by visiting her website.
October 13, 2022

Beyond Resilience Masterclass: The Making of Tubman/Douglass

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