Filmmaker Bonnie Boswell has an unusually close tie to her forthcoming film, The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights.Whitney Young, Jr., was her uncle and his parents helped raise her. Independent Lens sat down with Boswell to learn more about how her early life influenced her film. The Powerbroker premieres February 18 at 10pm PST on PBS (check local listings).
You didn’t just do a documentary on something that interested you. You did it on something you lived.
Yes, my early childhood was spent at Lincoln Institute, a black boarding high school in Kentucky where my grandfather was principal and my uncle was born. My grandparents raised me. If you came into their orbit, they raised you. My grandmom was supermom.
What was one of their main influences on you?
Both of my grandparents taught all of us on campus that despite the ills of segregation, never succumb to anger. “Don’t get mad, get smart,” they said. “Never let anyone drag you so low as to hate them.” These words of wisdom, I believe, helped Whitney Young become the great mediator of the 1960s civil rights movement. Continue reading →
A still from "Marriage Equality: Byron Rushing and the Fight for Fairness"
When President Obama stated his support for gay marriage a few weeks ago, the headlines were splashed across news outlets around the the world. For Pride Month, the National Black Programming Consortium launched a film made by Thomas Allen Harris – the first film to illuminate the role of African Americans in securing same-sex marriage as a Civil Right! Continue reading →
The lineup will include three new critically acclaimed documentaries in February: Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock, More Than a Month, and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 —featuring the legendary activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis.
In February 2012, Independent Lens will lead the celebration of Black History Month on public television with premieres of three new documentaries that shine a unique light on the history of African American activism, with one provocatively re-examining of the whole idea of Black History Month. Continue reading →
The Longoria Affair (El caso Longoria) — which aired this past November on Independent Lens — has been nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Historical Programming Long Form category. The film examines the refusal of a Texas funeral home to care for the body of WWII Mexican American soldier. Filmmaker John Valadez spoke with Independent Lens about the film and its impact through a series of community screenings.
When you set out to tell this story through film, was there a particular audience you wanted to reach, and if so, did you succeed?
I remember when I first started college, I came across a really stunning and disheartening statistic: the high school drop out rate for Xicanos hovers was around 50 percent and it has been that way for at least half a century. That fact has always troubled me. For Mexican American kids who do get into college they find a world largely devoid of educational materials about how Xicanos have helped shape the destiny of this country. The same absence in history that is so devastating to Mexican Americans is something that ultimately hurts non-Xicano students as well. You can look to the ethnic studies wars taking place in Arizona to see just how determined many policy makers are to maintain this absence of self-knowledge. Continue reading →
The Black Power Mixtape, directed by Göran Hugo Olsson, will screen Tuesday at the Cannes International Film Festival. The documentary will air next season on Independent Lens.
The documentary examines the evolution of the Black Power Movement in the black community and diaspora from 1967 to 1975. The film combines music, startling 16mm footage (lying undiscovered in the cellar of Swedish Television for 30 years), and contemporary audio interviews from leading African American artists, activists, musicians, and scholars.
The Longoria Affair airs Tuesday night on Independent Lens at 10 PM (check local listings). The documentary will also be streamed in its entirety online from November 10 until November 16. Plus, we are excited to offer the program in Spanish from November 10 until January 10, 2011. (There are two Independent Lens websites, too: one in English and one in Spanish.)
Director John J. Valadez’s film examines the story of Private Felix Longoria, an American citizen of Mexican descent who was killed fighting in the Pacific Theater for the United States during WWII. After Longoria’s body was sent home to Three Rivers, Texas, the town’s only funeral parlor refused to provide him a wake because “the whites wouldn’t like it.”
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universeaired last night on P.O.V. on PBS. But the conversation continued online well into the next day. Filmmakers Emily and Sarah Kunstler both logged on for a live chat with their audience immediately after the broadcast.
With America’s best known civil rights lawyer still fresh in everyone’s thoughts, the daughters fielded a wide range of questions from viewers. One participant asked how their father would have felt about the internet as a platform for activism. Both Emily and Sarah were convinced he would have been obsessed with following his press mentions through “Google alerts.” Read the full transcript from last night’s chat here.
Plus, watch exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from the film. Here you will see how Michelangelo’s David, an inspiration to a young William Kunstler, came to life through animation.
A self-described radical, Kunstler was one of the best-known civil rights attorneys in American history. He came from a privileged background and settled as a lawyer in Westchester County in the 1950s, setting up a small practice with his family. But Kunstler cut his teeth in the 1960s, representing freedom riders in Mississippi on behalf of the ACLU.
His daughters refer to him as a “silver tongued, pied piper,” who could charm a jury and bring national attention to underserved members of society. Kunstler passionately battled for the demands of the American Indian Movement in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, and later, the inmates of Attica prison.
It was his handling of the Chicago Seven case in 1969, however, that made him famous. Kunstler represented seven individuals charged with inciting race riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He sparred openly with the judge and prosecutor and was cited for contempt, nearly facing an unprecedented four years in prison.
Documentary filmmaker Avon Kirkland didn’t follow the typical path to filmmaking – earning a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis and working as a research scientist and educational publishing executive before starting a career in television in 1972.
Since then, his work as a producer, director, and writer has focused on creating films that explore the rich history and culture of African Americans and their contributions.
His work has included numerous ground-breaking projects such as Up & Coming, a 25-part drama series about an African-American family struggling between working- and middle-class in San Francisco; Booker, a one-hour drama based on the childhood of Booker T. Washington; and numerous other films that aired on American Masters and public television including Simple Justice, Street Soldiers, and Ralph Ellison: An American Journey.
More recently, Kirkland played a pivotal role as executive producer of Sam Cooke: Crossing Over, on which he worked with producer/director John Antonelli to secure completion funding from ITVS. The film looks at the musical and political significance of composer, performer, and pioneering pop music entrepreneur Sam Cooke and the circumstances that led to his murder.
Check out this video where Kirkland explains the impact and importance of the legendary singer.