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Filmmaker Aims to Tell ‘Important and Complex Story’ of HBCUs in New Documentary

An award-winning Black filmmaker is creating a new documentary to share the impact historically Black colleges and universities had on American culture.

Stanley Nelson’s film features interviews with historians along with HBCU professors, alumni and students to showcase the institution’s development.

The 65-year-old director told The Huffington Post about his two-hour doc, which is currently in the editing stage.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is necessary now more than ever, he believes.

“HBCUs have been instrumental in this country,” he said. “Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, there was no other place they could go to school. This is the cornerstone of the African-American community. And I think that most people don’t know anything about it.”

Nelson, whose parents both graduated from HBCUs, explored the creation of the all-Black schools. In addition, he looked into the adversities students overcame. But the film also brought to light that HBCUs served as a place where sit-ins could take shape.

“The sit-in movement wasn’t gonna come out of Yale or somewhere else,” Nelson stated. “It had to come out of Black schools. I think that’s really important that we understand that it’s a very different thing that if you were at a majority white school where you might have a little table at the lunch room, if that. And it’s hard to talk about issues that affect the African-American community.”

In a statement obtained by Shadow and Act, Nelson said he will collect artifacts to help share HBCUs’ legacy.

“To tell this important and complex story, it is essential that our documentary highlights personal accounts, letters, diaries, photographs, and even home movies of the people who have lived the HBCU experience.”

Tell Them We Are Rising is the first film of its kind to explore HBCUs’ history. However, Nelson also wants to take the knowledge outside of the TV screen. The filmmaker is in the middle of an HBCU homecoming tour to interview subjects for a multimedia project, according to the film’s Instagram page.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities airs on PBS in fall 2017.

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