Leslie Fields-Cruz

MARCH 22, 2022




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

When You Rise, We Recognize

There was a time when I looked forward to watching the media arts’ annual EGOT festivities (Emmy, Golden Globe, Oscar, Tony awards). These days, the industry is so awash in award programs, I know I’m not the only one whose enthusiasm for them has waned. Yet, when it comes to recognizing the achievements of people who have traditionally been marginalized and left out, I have a different attitude. Let me explain.

Orlando Bagwell, who as director of a films program at the Ford Foundation led to, among other things, the resurgence of the Sundance documentary program. He's stepping down to make films himself. Photo by Robert Caplin                                 NYTCREDIT: Robert Caplin for The New York Times
Orlando Bagwell

A few years ago, as part of BPM’s 40th anniversary, we celebrated the achievements of 40 people who we called the 40-for-40 Game Changers. Our 40-for-40 included Black documentary filmmakers, public media executives, content distributors, and media educators whose contributions helped to make many of the opportunities we have today possible. In 2019, we presented our first Trailblazer Award at PitchBLACK to documentary filmmakers Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster. In 2021, that award went to Marco Williams. And in a few weeks (on April 28), we will celebrate Orlando Bagwell, our 2022 BPM Trailblazer. 

Why, you might ask, would someone who complains about the abundance of awards programs turn around and host one? My answer is that BPM’s awards not only recognize extraordinary craftsmanship and mentorship, they acknowledge — in ways few outside of our community can — that these feats were achieved despite the inhospitable and, at times, downright hostile context in which Black media makers work. BPM’s awards tell those in our community, “We see you.” “Your work has value.” “You are not alone.” They also show our sponsors and donors that their investments are bearing fruit.

If you don’t already know Orlando Bagwell’s work, make time to discover it. His extraordinary docs are by, about and inspiring to Black people. I have several of my own favorites, but it was Bagwell’s Citizen King (co-written and directed with Noland Walker) that truly awoke my mind. Orlando’s leadership and mentorship have opened doors that many now take for granted, not realizing the herculean effort it took for him to pry them open.

We present the Trailblazer Award because we believe people like Orlando, Marco, Michèle, and Joe are exceptional and that everyone in this business should know and respect their work. We hope you share these sentiments and will, therefore, join us on Thursday, April 28, when in addition to honoring Orlando, we’ll present the Nonso Christian Ugbode Emerging Media Fellowship, and awards of up to $150K to winners of the PitchBLACK Forum. The virtual awards ceremony is free and open to the public, as is the after party. Register today, to reserve your spot. 

I also invite you to join us this Thursday, March 24, for our Women’s History Month Mixer. Bone up on your women-in-the-media history and you could win an exclusive ticket to our invitation-only PitchBLACK Forum: Film event next month. All are welcome to this month’s March mixer, but registration is required. 

Finally, I want to applaud all 36 of the grantees announced last week by Firelight Media’s Spark Fund. Each will receive grants of $50K over the course of the year. The BPM family members included among these recipients are: Zeinabu Davis, Rodney Evans, Luchina Fisher, Thomas Allen Harris, Ray Santisteban, Garland McLaurin, Keith McQuirter, Michèle Stephenson, and Yvonne Welbon. Congratulations, all of you! 

Achieving success in this industry is hard. Mentoring those who dare to follow in your footsteps is also difficult. BPM is here to support, recognize and celebrate all who opt to muscle through. I hope to see you all at PitchBLACK.

Black Public Media is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and Acton Family Giving.  For more information about underwriting and contributions, please contact Alisa Norris (Alisa@ blackpublicmedia.org). To donate, click here! In addition, you can donate to BPM through your Amazon purchases by going to smile.amazon.com/ch/31-1335950.

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