Black List, The: Sundance Docu on HBO

In a new kind of portraiture, a remarkable group of African-American notables share candid stories and revealing insights into the struggles, triumphs and joys of black life in the U.S. when “The Black List: Volume 1” debuts Monday, August 25, 2008 exclusively on HBO.

The film is a collaboration between portrait photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who directs, and journalist Elvis Mitchell, who interviews such influential people as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sean Combs, Thelma Golden, Lou Gossett, Jr., Bill T. Jones, Vernon Jordan, Toni Morrison, Richard Parsons, Chris Rock, Al Sharpton, Slash, Faye Wattleton, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Serena Williams.

A 2008 Sundance Film Fest selection, the documentary profiles some of today’s most fascinating African-Americans. From the childhood inspirations that shaped their ambitions, to the evolving American landscape they helped define, to the importance of preserving a unique cultural identity for future generations, these 22 prominent individuals offer a unique look into the zeitgeist of black America, redefining the traditional pejorative notion of a blacklist.

The complete list of people featured in “The Black List: Vol. 1” includes basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, musician Sean Combs, Negro Leagues baseball star Mahlon Duckett, museum curator Thelma Golden, actor Lou Gossett, Jr., choreographer Bill T. Jones, attorney Vernon Jordan, former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, author Toni Morrison, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, executive Richard Parsons, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, political strategist Susan Rice, comedian Chris Rock, activist Al Sharpton, artist Lorna Simpson, musician Slash, basketball star Dawn Staley, former Planned Parenthood president Faye Wattleton, actor Keenen Ivory Wayans, tennis star Serena Williams and author Zane.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell conceptualized what would become “The Black List Project” in May 2006, discussing the idea of collaborating on a book on black culture, which led to the idea of a documentary.

“When Timothy proposed that we should do the portraits as interviews, things just escalated from there,” recalls Mitchell. “We practically shouted out one great idea after another for the project,” adds Greenfield-Sanders. “We put a preliminary list together on a napkin of over 100 possible subjects that came to mind almost immediately. We just couldn’t believe that no one had done it before.”

Greenfield-Sanders and Mitchell wanted “The Black List Project” to be not just an enumeration of obstacles overcome, but also a unique source of insights that would emphasize the elegance and determination of its subjects. They began by recruiting friends they hoped would want to participate, including museum curator Thelma Golden and author Toni Morrison. “Once they were on board, the project began to take on an amazing momentum,” says Greenfield-Sanders.

Mitchell is never heard or seen on camera, which allows the subjects’ own voices to remain the focus. The actual title was first conceived by Mitchell as an antidote to the persistent taint that western culture has applied to the word “black.”

The HBO documentary film is the hub of “The Black List Project,” which celebrates the diverse experiences of being black in America and maximizes the power of these stories through a range of activities, including: a traveling museum exhibition of photographic portraits, organized by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; an upcoming book of photographs and interviews, published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, New York; and a national interactive, curriculum-based educational program. “The Black List Project” is produced by Freemind Ventures, a New York-based media collective, and is the pilot program to the larger Freemind initiative “One Million Stories.”

HBO is also inviting the public to “get on the list” by launching the “Who’s on Your Black List” project, with selected participants to be interviewed by Elvis Mitchell and filmed and photographed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders in New York during upcoming months. The segments will be available online and on HBO On Demand early next year. For more information go to whosonyourblacklist.com.

“The Black List: Vo. 1” is the final presentation of the HBO Documentary Films summer series, which features a provocative new film every Monday night at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT) through Aug. 25.

Other August documentaries include: “Baghdad High” (Aug. 4); “We Are Together: The Children of Agape Choir” (Aug. 11); and “Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House” (Aug. 18).

HBO Documentary Films and Freemind Ventures & Perfect Day Films present THE BLACK LIST: VOL. 1. A film by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders & Elvis Mitchell. Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders; interviews by Elvis Mitchell; producers, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Elvis Mitchell and Michael Slap Sloane; executive producers, Christopher McKee, Scott Richman, Tommy Walker and Payne Brown; associate producer, Mary Bradley; editor, Lukas Hauser; music by Neal Evans; director of photography, Graham Willoughby.