Award winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson prescreened his new documentary, “Tell Them We Are Rising” at Howard University during Black History Month to a crowd full of cheers and questions. The film chronicled the history of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and their impact on society.
“Why the decision to gloss over the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s to go straight to today,” asked a Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) alumni in attendance.
“It was a matter of time. I had to tell specific stories,” Nelson said, as he explained how he was able to tell a story of over 150 years in 90 minutes. The approach was simple – “start in enslavement, then being allowed to read and write and end at today.”
Over the arc of the film, Nelson progressed the storyline by weaving instrumental moments together in succession, creating a timeline depicting HBCUs since their inception during the Reconstruction era.
One student from Morgan State University took offense with the filmmaker’s portrayal of one prominent black historical figure. “I didn’t like [your] characterization of Booker T. Washington; you characterized him in a negative position.”
Nelson replied matter-of-factly, “I stand by my position.”
From Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, to Brown vs. Board of Education and sit ins at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University, Nelson underscored the importance of education for the advancement of the black community.
By night’s end the crowd overall had shared their appreciation for the documentary and for the filmmaker’s breadth of work.