Stanley Nelson is today’s leading documentarian of the African-American experience. His films combine compelling narratives with rich historical detail to illuminate the under-explored American past. A MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, Nelson has received nearly every award in broadcasting, including five Primetime Emmy Awards, and lifetime achievement awards from the Emmys, the Peabody Awards, and the International Documentary Association. In 2016, Nelson was honored with the National Medal in the Humanities from President Barack Obama.
In 2020, Nelson’s film Freedom Riders was added to the National Film Registry from the Library of Congress. In 2019, the film Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool became Nelson’s 10th Sundance premiere, and first Grammy nomination for Best Music Film in 2020. In the same year, Nelson’s four-hour series Vick, about the complicated life and times of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, premiered on ESPN’s 30 for 30 to rave reviews. Nelson's latest feature films include Attica, a film that documents the 1971 prison uprising for Showtime; the Emmy-nominated Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, with Marco Williams, for the History Channel; and Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy, a harrowing look at the crack epidemic of the 1980s, for Netflix.
With his wife, Marcia A. Smith, Nelson co-founded Firelight Media, a non-profit organization that supports and develops nonfiction filmmakers of color. Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab has supported over 100 filmmakers, whose films have premiered in theaters and on broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. Their films have won Emmy and Peabody Awards and garnered accolades from festivals and critics alike.