Stanley Nelson

Stanley Nelson is today’s leading documentarian of the African-American experience. His films combine compelling narratives with rich historical detail to illuminate the under-explored American past. A MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, Nelson has received nearly every award in broadcasting, including five Primetime Emmy Awards, and lifetime achievement awards from the Emmys, the Peabody Awards, and the International Documentary Association. In 2016, Nelson was honored with the National Medal in the Humanities from President Barack Obama.

Nelson’s latest film is Attica, with Traci A. Curry, on the 1971 prison uprising, which premiered as the opening night documentary at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and is now streaming on Showtime. In 2020, Nelson’s film Freedom Riders was added to the National Film Registry from the Library of Congress. In the same year, Nelson’s four-hour series Vick, about the complicated life and times of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, premiered on ESPN’s 30 for 30 to rave reviews. In 2019, the film Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool became Nelson’s 10th Sundance premiere, and first Grammy nomination for Best Music Film in 2020. Nelson's other recent feature films include the Emmy-nominated Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, with Marco Williams, for the History Channel; and Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy, a harrowing look at the crack epidemic of the 1980s, for Netflix.

With his wife, Marcia A. Smith, Nelson co-founded Firelight Media, a non-profit organization that supports and develops nonfiction filmmakers of color. Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab has supported over 100 filmmakers whose films have premiered in theaters and on broadcast, cable ,and streaming platforms. Their films have won Emmy and Peabody Awards and garnered accolades from festivals and critics alike.

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