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ACLU at Sundance: Seeing "The Black List"

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January 23, 2008

I arrived in Park City last night, dropped my stuff at the hotel and headed out to the movies.

First up was Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell’s collaboration, “The Black List,” a powerful documentary comprised of 20 interviews with influential African-Americans. The inspirational group of subjects included artists, CEOs, politicians, sports luminaries and activists, including Colin Powell, Chris Rock, Toni Morrison and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While the term “black list” typically refers to those excluded, this group of remarkable men and women will certainly be included in the history books for their many contributions to American culture and politics.

The interviews play like a series of confessionals or living portraiture. Each individual was set against a simple backdrop, and you only heard their respective voices – no questions were heard, just answers. The camera never zoomed, as that has editorial implications; every word they spoke was as significant as the one before. Many spoke of the one moment they remember when someone called them out for being black. All spoke of their pride in their achievements and the state of being black in this century.

The screening room was packed, and not a single person left during the Q and A that followed. One audience member asked the filmmakers about the significance of art in black culture. Mitchell responded: “We couldn’t own land. We couldn’t hold office. Art proved a way out.”

HBO bought the film, and hopes to show it theatrically, on HBO, and in schools over the next year and a half in conjunction with a show of portraits shot by Greenfield-Sanders.