June 18, 2021

The Black Joy Playlist | Beyond Resilience

On the eve of Juneteenth, and in honor of Black Music Month, Firelight Media hosted a Beyond Resilience event celebrating music documentaries by and about Black artists.

Panelists include Firelight Founder Stanley Nelson (Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool) and an all-star group of Firelight-supported filmmakers whose documentaries lift up Black music and musicians, including Yoruba Richen (How It Feels To Be Free), Malika Zouhali-Worrall (Amyra León: Strange Grace), and Nyjia July (Listen To My Heartbeat). The event features clips of musical segments from each film and a discussion about the process of making a music documentary. Moderated by Greg Tate, writer and musician. The event culminates with the launch of a Black Joy Playlist comprising music from the featured films as well as song selections from the Firelight Media community, which you can find below.

The Beyond Resilience Series is sponsored by Open Society Foundations. Beyond Resilience is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.


Inspired by the films featured in the Black Joy Playlist event, and curated by the panelists as well as members of the Firelight Media community, stream the Black Joy Playlist below via Spotify.

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.

Greg Tate is a writer and musician who lives in Harlem. A founding member of the Black Rock Coalition, Tate played guitar and co-led the BRC affiliate band Women In Love which included future Burnt Sugar members Mikel Banks, Jason Di Matteo and andLewis Flip Barnes. in the 90s. In 1999 he and Jared Nickerson formed Burnt Sugar which has, to date, produced 16 albums under Tate’s direction on Burnt Sugar’s own Avant Groidd imprint. Greg Tate was a Staff Writer at The Village Voice from 1987-2003. His writings on culture and politics have also been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Artforum, Rolling Stone, VIBE, Premiere, Essence, Suede, The Wire, One World, Downbeat, and JazzTimes. He was recently acknowledged by The Source magazine as one of the ‘Godfathers of Hiphop Journalism’ for his groundbreaking work on the genre’s social, political, economic and cultural implications in the period when most pundits considered it a fad. His published interviews include dialogues with s Miles Davis, George Clinton, Richard Pryor, Carlos Santana, Lenny Kravitz, Sade, Erykah Badu, Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, Lisa Bonet, Samuel R Delany, Ice Cube, Dexter Gordon, Betty Carter, King Sunny Ade, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Cassandra Wilson, Jill Scott, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill and Vernon Reid of Living Colour. Tate has also written for the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, ICA Boston, ICA London, Museum of Contemporary Art Houston, The Studio Museum In Harlem, The Gagosian Gallery, Deitch Projects and the Tate Museums London and Liverpool. His writing about visual art includes monographs and essays about Chris Ofili. Wengechi Mutu, Jean Michel Basquiat, Ellen Gallagher, Kehinde Wiley and Ramm El Zee. His books include Everything But The Burden, What White People Are Taking From Black Culture (Harlem Moon/Random House, 2003), Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and The Black Experience (Acapella/Lawrence Hill, 2003); Flyboy In The Buttermilk, Essays on American Culture (Simon and Schuster, 1993) and Flyboy 2:The Greg Tate Reader (Duke University Press). He recently completed ‘The 100 Best Hiphop Lyrics’ for Penguin and is now working on a book about the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, for Riverhead Press. His play My Darling Gremlin (with live music score by Lawrence Butch Morris) was produced at Aaron Davis Hall in 1993 and at The Kitchen in 1995. His short feature film Black Body Radiation was completed in 2006. He also collaborated on the librettos for Juluis Hemphill’s opera Long Tongues (Apollo Production) and for Leroy Jenkins’ Fresh Faust, (Boston ICA Production).


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. Nelson’s latest documentary, Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy debuted on Netflix in 2021. His next documentary, Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, with Marco Williams, will premiere on the HISTORY Channel on May 30. In 2000, Mr. Nelson and his wife Marcia Smith co-founded Firelight Media.

Nyjia July is a Washington D.C. native and attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts with a major in Literary Media. She attended college at the University of the Arts with a major in documentary film and a minor in digital journalism. Nyjia has worked with filmmaker Marc Levin and Black Public Media. She has previously worked on the PBS documentary Through a Lens Darkly, She became a Corporation for Public Broadcast diversity fellow and a digital media coordinator with CAAM, the Center for Asian American Media. She’s worked in development with MTV and has been a segment and field producer on numerous docuseries and reality shows. Nyjia’s first documentary Just Us examines the epidemic of generational imprisonment. She was in the SOURCE Magazine as one of 25 Women to Watch. Her second documentary Listen To My Heartbeat, looks at the gentrification of Washington, D.C. through the gaze of the city’s folkloric music. Listen To My Heartbeat has been awarded development support through ITVS’s Diversity Development Fund and is amid production. Nyjia was a BAVC MediaMaker Fellow and was a part of SUNDANCE and Women in Film’s Financing and Strategy Intensive for Independent Women Filmmakers. Nyjia completed the Joan Scheckel directing lab and was a Black Public Media 360 Incubator fellow for 2019. In 2021 Nyjia is currently a Firelight Media Documentary Lab Fellow and a Sundance Uprise Grantee.

Yoruba Richen, a Firelight Media Documentary Lab alum, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has been featured on PBS, New York Times Op Doc, Frontline Digital, New York Magazine’s website -The Cut, The Atlantic, and Field of Vision. Her latest film How it Feels To Be Free premiered on PBS’s American Masters in January of 2021. Her recent film The New York Times Presents: The Killing of Breonna Taylor premiered on FX and Hulu, and The Sit In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show premiered on MSNBC and is streaming on Peacock. Her previous film, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom was broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel and was nominated for an EMMY. Her films The New Black and Promised Land won multiple festival awards before airing on PBS's Independent Lens and P.O.V. Yoruba won the Creative Promise Award at Tribeca All Access and was a Sundance Producers Fellow. She is the 2016 recipient of the Chicken & Egg Breakthrough Filmmaker Award and a Guggenheim Fellow. Yoruba is the founding director of the Documentary Program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

Malika Zouhali-Worrall is a Firelight Media Documentary Lab alum and the director of Amyra León: Strange Grace, part of the In the Making series from Firelight Media, PBS American Masters, and Topic. Malika is a British-Moroccan filmmaker based in New York. An Emmy Award-winning director, her directing credits include Call Me Kuchu, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2012, and broadcast on Netflix and the BBC; Thank You For Playing, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015, broadcast on POV, and received an Emmy Award, and French broadcaster ARTE’s Earn A Living series (IDFA, 2018). Malika is currently in development on her third feature-length film. Malika is an instructor in documentary filmmaking at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn, New York. She is a 2015 Firelight Lab Fellow, a 2019 Chicken & Egg Awardee, and a 2020 Sundance Momentum Fellow.


  • Learn more about Stanley Nelson’s Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool here, and stream it via PBS American Masters.
  • Stream the soundtrack to the GRAMMY Award-nominated Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool here.
  • Learn more about Nyjia July and her documentary Listen To My Heartbeat, currently in production, here.
  • Learn more about Yoruba Richen’s How It Feels To Be Free here, and stream it via PBS American Masters.
  • Stream Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s Amyra León: Strange Grace, from Firelight Media, PBS American Masters, and Topic, here.
  • Learn more about Greg Tate and his work with Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber here.
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