‘Independent Lens,’ Stanley Nelson Team on ‘America Revisited II,’ Trilogy of Docs About Black Artists and Cultural Leaders (EXCLUSIVE)

Stanley Nelson Making 'America Revisited II' for Independent Lens
Corey Nickols

Stanley Nelson and Firelight Films have partnered with Independent Lens on a new trilogy of films that will chronicle pivotal moments in American history driven by Black artists, cultural leaders, and everyday people. Nelson will direct and produce three new documentaries comprising “America Revisited II.” The films will span topics such as the rise of funk music, the evolution of African American art, and the deeply rooted, vibrant history of Harlem.

The trilogy will kick off with “Make It Funky: The History of Funk,” followed by “In Our Own Image: The Story of African-American Art,” and conclude with “Harlem: The Soul of the Nation.” In addition, Nelson will direct “Creating the New World: The Transatlantic Slave Trade,” a previously announced documentary that was commissioned for “America Revisited I,” an earlier trilogy of films Nelson also directed for Independent Lens.

“I’m thrilled to be working with “Independent Lens’ again on ‘America Revisited II,’ following such a successful run with the first two films from the earlier trilogy, ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ and ‘The Black Panthers’—both of which continue to resonate in national conversations around racial justice happening today,” said filmmaker and Firelight Films founder Stanley Nelson. “With this next trilogy, I’m excited to turn my lens toward Black artists and culture, and to explore and pay tribute to the rich history of Harlem, the place I call home.”

Awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama, Nelson has directed and produced numerous acclaimed films, many of them covering the civil rights movement and the fight for equality. Many have become landmarks in documentary filmmaking including: “Freedom Summer,” “Freedom Riders,” “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple,” and “The Murder of Emmett Till.” The Emmy Award-winning filmmaker also directed and produced “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary, and “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” both of which were part of “America Revisited I” and debuted on “Independent Lens” in 2016 and 2018 respectively. “The Black Panthers” remains the highest rated independent documentary to have aired on PBS.

The “America Revisited II” trilogy is produced in partnership with Nelson’s production company Firelight Films and co-funded by ITVS, the leading funder of public television productions in the U.S., as part of its Series and Special Projects initiative. ITVS also co-funded the films featured in “America Revisited I.” The films of “America Revisited II” will premiere on the ITVS flagship series “Independent Lens” on PBS.

“’Independent Lens’ is extremely pleased to continue our collaboration with Stanley, one of America’s preeminent documentary filmmakers,” said Lois Vossen, “Independent Lens” executive producer. “Starting with ‘A Place of Our Own’ (2004), through ‘The Black Panthers’ (2016) and ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ (2018), Stanley’s deeply influential and revealing work demonstrates his commitment to advancing underrepresented stories from the periphery to the forefront. His films speak powerfully to ‘Independent Lens’s’ ongoing commitment to excellence, inclusion, and great storytelling.”

Here are the official loglines for the films:

“Make It Funky: The History of Funk” is a syncopated voyage through the history of funk music, spanning from its African and early jazz roots to the early work of James Brown and the rise of Parliament Funkadelic, up through today. Distinctly urban, funk music reflected a post-civil rights movement sensibility. The film examines the symbiotic relationship between the explosion of funk music and the turbulent political and racial dynamics of 1970s inner-city America.

“In Our Own Image: The Story of African-American Art” explores African American art—from its roots on Southern plantations to its place on the world stage—while telling the moving stories of the artists who create it, the people who collect it, the institutions which protect its legacy, and the era in which the art was created. More than a historical documentary, the film also wrestles with the question: “Why create art?”

“Harlem: The Soul of the Nation” tells the rich, bold, and complicated history of Harlem and the people who witnessed its flourishing. The film dissects distinct periods of Harlem’s development, retracing the dynamic population shifts of the 20th century—from the Jewish and Italian farmlands of the late 19th century to the Black artistic explosion of the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Age in the 1920s, detailing the story of the “New Negro Movement” grown in Harlem with the first generation of Black people born completely outside the stifling bounds of enslavement.