The traditional definition of the phrase ‘blacklist’ has been rendered obsolete by the documentary “The Black List,” which seeks to bury the negative weight of the term by allowing African-Americans to provide an up-to-the-minute answer to the grim origins of “blacklist.” In a film that works as series of living portraits, twenty prominent African Americans of various professions, disciplines and backgrounds offer their own stories and insights on the struggles, triumphs and joys of black life in this country and manage to re-define “blacklist” for a new century in the process. The film is presented as a series of vignettes – a kind of living portraiture – in which the subjects address the camera directly as they tell their stories.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders directed the film in collaboration with Elvis Mitchell who conducted the interviews. Mitchell is never seen on camera or heard, thus allowing the subjects’ own voices to remain the focus. The actual title of the film itself, “The Black List”, was conceived of by Mitchell as an answer to the constant taint applied to the word ‘black’ in Western culture.
Those interviewed for the film come from a vast and different collection of disciplines that draw from the worlds of the arts, sports, politics; the group assembled features luminaries such as Toni Morrison, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Vernon Jordan, Chris Rock, Richard D. Parsons, Zane and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Their tales of their lives begin with the personal, and move into an area of larger social repercussion, as the weight of their accomplishment on this country and world come into focus.
“The Black List” is more than an enumeration of obstacles overcome – it’s a singular view of America from a type of insight and perspective rarely seen on screen in a way that emphasizes the elegance and determination of the subjects.