At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, director Stanley Nelson told a packed crowd at the Blackhouse, a space dedicated to supporting Black multi-platform content creators, that he wouldn’t be where he is today without Howard University. Though he didn’t attend the prestigious institution, his father’s choice to pack up and head to HU helped to shape Nelson’s life. “That’s why I’m sitting up here today,” an emotional Nelson told the crowd while discussing his latest film, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The ambitious project, which chronicles 170 years of history in about two-hours, made its world premiere at the festival on Monday and Nelson can’t wait to share the story with the world.
While many outside of the Black community know very little about the importance and impact of HBCUs, Nelson reminded the crowd that without students at institutions like Howard, Fisk, Tuskegee, FAMU, and others, the civil rights gains African Americans fought for during the 20th century would not have been won. “There’s a need for Black colleges,” he argued. “They’re the only Black intellectual space in the country.”
As he did in his previous docs, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Freedom Summer, and The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords, in Tell Them We Are Rising, Nelson explores the ways in which Black folks, and in this case HBCUs, have influenced American history, culture, and national identity.
The film is slated to air on PBS in October 2017, but audiences can view a preview of the stirring documentary below.
To learn more about the film and add your story to the film’s digital yearbook full of HBCU grads and faculty, head over to JET.