Stanley Nelson Jr.

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Stanley Nelson Jr.
Stanley Nelson Jr 2017.jpg
Stanley Nelson Jr. at the 2017 Montclair Film Festival
Stanley Earl Nelson Jr.

(1951-06-07) June 7, 1951 (age 67)
Education William Greaves
Alma mater City College of New York (B.F.A.)
Occupation Film director, producer
Awards MacArthur Fellows Program
National Humanities Medal

Stanley Earl Nelson Jr. (born June 7, 1951) is an American documentary filmmaker and a Macarthur "genius" fellow known as a director, writer and producer of documentaries examining African American history and experiences.[1][2] He is a recipient of the 2013 National Humanities Medal from President Obama. He has won three Primetime Emmy Awards.[3]

Among his notable films are Freedom Riders (2010),[4][5][6] Wounded Knee (2009), Jonestown: The Life & Death of People’s Temple (2006), Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice (2005), A Place of Our Own (2004),[7][8] The Murder of Emmett Till (2003), and The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords (1998).

Early life and education

Nelson was born in New York City on June 7, 1951, to Stanley Nelson Sr. and A’lelia (Ransom) Nelson, and the second of four children.[9] Nelson's mother A'lelia Nelson was the last president of the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, a famous early black enterprise established in 1906 that produced hair care products and cosmetics for black women.[10][11] A’lelia was also a librarian at City College of New York and was acquisitions supervisor for the Library of Congress.[10] Nelson's father Dr. Stanley Earl Nelson Sr. was a dentist who was a pioneer in reconstructive dentistry and taught at New York University. Dr. Nelson was also an active supporter of the civil rights movement.[12] Nelson's sister Jill Nelson is a prominent African-American journalist and author.[13]

Nelson attended New Lincoln School, a private Manhattan school, from kindergarten through high school. He attended Beloit College in Wisconsin, and later transferred to six different colleges including New York University, Morris Brown College, and Hunter College. He graduated from the Leonard Davis Film School at the City College of New York with a Bachelor in Fine Arts in 1976.[14]


After graduation, Nelson earned an apprenticeship with the documentary filmmaker William Greaves. Nelson wrote and produced his 1987 documentary about the first self-made American millionairess, Two Dollars and a Dream: The Story of Madam C.J. Walker, which aired as part of Black History Month presentations on PBS in 1988.[15][16] The film was named Best Production of the Decade by the Black Filmmakers Foundation, and won the CINE Golden Eagle Award.[17]

Nelson soon found a job at PBS, working as a television producer with Bill Moyers for the TV series Listening to America. His next film releases included the Emmy Award-nominated documentary The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords (1999),[18] and Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (2000) about civil right activist Marcus Garvey was first place overall winner at the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 2001 and won best documentary at the 2002 Black International Cinema Awards.[9][19] Nelson has made several productions for the Smithsonian Institution, including a tribute to African-American artists, entitled Free Within Ourselves, and Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.[1]

He received a MacArthur Fellows Program Fellowship in 2002.[20] Nelson also received fellowships at American Film Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and Columbia University. He was on the selection panel for three years for the Fulbright Fellowship in film.[1]

For the 2003 The American Experience (PBS) episode The Murder Of Emmett Till, Nelson won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming, Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize, and the George Foster Peabody Award.[21][22]

Nelson's 2004 film A Place of Our Own was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.[23] In 2004, he also won the Educational Video Center's Excellence in Community Service Award.[24]

In 2007, he received an Emmy nomination for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking as a producer of Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple that aired on PBS series The American Experience.[3]

On May 4, 2011, Stanley Nelson and his film Freedom Riders was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in a special program celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders.[25] Nelson won two Emmy awards for the film in 2011: Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming, and Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking as one of the producers.[3]

Nelson directed the 2015 documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, the first of what is to be a three-part series of documentaries about African-American history entitled America Revisited. He won an Emmy Award for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking as one of the producers of this film in 2016.[3]

He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a recipient of the NEH National Humanities Medal presented by President Obama in 2014.[26][27] In 2015 the American Film Institute paid tribute to him as its Guggenheim Symposium Honoree.[22] In 2016 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the News & Documentary Emmy Awards.[28]

Stanley Nelson is Executive Director and co-founder of Firelight Media with wife, writer and producer Marcia Smith,[29] a non-profit which provides technical education and professional support to emerging documentarians. The organization received the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2015.[26] He is co-founder of Firelight Films, the for-profit documentary production company.[30]



  1. ^ a b c "About the Filmmaker: Stanley Nelson". The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords. PBS. Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  2. ^ Hale, Mike (2011-05-15). "An Explorer of Black History's Uncharted Terrain". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  3. ^ a b c d "Stanley Nelson". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  4. ^ "Sundance '10: "Freedom Riders"' Stanley Nelson Sheds Light on Civil Rights Group". Indiewire. 2010-01-22. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  5. ^ "50th Anniversary of the First Freedom Ride: New Documentary Recounts Historic 1961 Effort to Challenge Segregated Bus System in the Deep South". Democracy Now. 2011-05-04. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  6. ^ "'Freedom Riders' Celebrates Civil Rights Heroes". ABC News. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  7. ^ "A Place of Our Own". Independent Lens. 2004-02-17. PBS. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  8. ^ Leydon, Joe (2004-01-18). "Review: 'A Place of Our Own'". Variety. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  9. ^ a b "Nelson, Stanley". Notable Black American Men, Book II. Thomson Gale. 2007. Retrieved 2017-09-09 – via
  10. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (2001-02-14). "A'Lelia Nelson, 82, President Of a Black Cosmetics Company". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  11. ^ Nelson, Jill (2002-12-05). "Good Hair Day Company". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  12. ^ "Dr. Stanley Nelson, Pioneer in Dentistry, Led Passionate Life". The Vineyard Gazette. Edgartown, MA. 2016-09-07. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  13. ^ Samuels, Wilfred D. (2015-04-22). "Nelson, Jill". Encyclopedia of African-American Literature. Infobase Learning. Retrieved 2017-09-11 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ "Stanley Nelson". The History Makers. 2006-04-03. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  15. ^ Nelson, Jill (1988-02-21). "TWO DOLLARS AND A DREAM". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  16. ^ "Madam C.J. Walker, Two Dollars and a Dream". Indiana Legends. PBS. WTIU. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  17. ^ "Stanley Nelson". Communications Hall of Fame. City College Alumni Association. 2010. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  18. ^ "The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords". Firelight Media. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  19. ^ Finn, Robin (2002-10-08). "PUBLIC LIVES; $500,000 Should Buy a Few Body Doubles". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  20. ^ "Stanley Nelson". Macarthur Foundation. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  21. ^ "American Experience: The Murder of Emmett Till (PBS)". The Peabody Awards. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  22. ^ a b "Documentary Filmmaker Stanley Nelson to be 2015 AFI DOCS Guggenheim Symposium Honoree". American Film Institute. 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  23. ^ Okoi-Obuli, Wendy (2004-02-10). "The History, Significance & Changing Landscape of an African American Resort Community in Stanley Nelson's 'A Place Of Our Own'". IndieWire. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  24. ^ "Stanley Nelson". Butler University. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  25. ^ "Oprah Honors Freedom Riders". The Oprah Winfrey Show. 2011-05-04. Retrieved 2017-09-09.; OWN (2014-12-31). Meet the Freedom Riders Who Survived a Deadly Attack from the KKK, The Oprah Winfrey Show, OWN. YouTube. Event occurs at 3:23. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  26. ^ a b Levine, Cindy (2015-09-21). "Stanley Nelson on His Mission as a Filmmaker & Receiving the Hamptons Take 2 Career Achievement Award". Indiewire. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  27. ^ "President Obama Awards 2013 National Humanities Medals". National Endowment for the Humanities. 2014-07-22. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  28. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Award - Stanley Nelson". YouTube. The Emmy Awards. 2016-09-21. "DOCUMENTARIAN STANLEY NELSON TO RECEIVE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD AT THE 37TH ANNUAL NEWS & DOCUMENTARY EMMY® AWARDS". National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. 2016-07-28. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  29. ^ "Getting Real '16 Marcia Smith". International Documentary Association. Retrieved 2017-09-09. Almo, Laura. "Outreach, Not Out of Reach: Firelight Media Illuminates the Under-Represented". International Documentary Association. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  30. ^ "Award-Winning Director Stanley Nelson and Firelight Films Launches HBCU Tour with Public Media Stations for 'Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities'". CPB. Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 2017-11-01. Retrieved 2018-02-10.

External links

  • Official website
  • Stanley Nelson Jr. on IMDb
  • Freedom Riders, Online PBS
  • Charlie Rose interview
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