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From “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” to “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” filmmaker Stanley Nelson has created a multitude of poignant documentaries that capture the essence of the Black experience in America. The New York native will receive a major accolade for his work. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Nelson will be the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

The award is bestowed upon individuals who have been instrumental in shaping the landscape of film. Nelson—an award-winning producer and director—is known for creating compelling documentaries that illustrate how past events have shaped the current state of race relations, social issues, and politics. His film credits include projects like “Freedom Riders,” which captures the narratives of Civil Rights activists who led peaceful protests against racial discrimination, and “The Murder of Emmett Till,” which takes an in-depth look at the harrowing story of the 14-year-old who was brutally murdered while visiting his family in Mississippi in 1955. He has also created documentaries that delve into the journeys of Black pioneers like political activist Marcus Garvey and legendary jazz musician Miles Davis.

Throughout his career, Nelson has garnered several awards for his work including a National Medal in the Humanities from former President Barack Obama, a 2015 Peabody Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 2016. He is the co-founder of a nonprofit dubbed Firelight Media that works to educate and empower filmmakers of color.

Festival organizers say Nelson’s groundbreaking work will impact generations to come. “We’re honored to recognize Stanley Nelson, one of the documentary world’s most important voices, with the Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award, and to feature a selection of films from Stanley’s impressive body of work,” Shane Smith, Director of Programming for Hot Docs, said in a statement. “His contribution to documentary is unprecedented, with his powerful films providing incisive commentary on the African American experience, while restoring his subjects to their rightful place in history.” The Toronto-based festival is slated to kick off on April 30 and will run through May 10.

Nelson says his mission is to capture underrepresented stories through film. “I’m just trying to make films that are challenging to me, stories that are important to me,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “If you want to change the narrative, if you want to change the story, you have to change who tells the story.”


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