Making The Black List
When Timothy Greenfield-Sanders was taking promotional photographs for Toni Morrison’s first opera, “Margaret Garner”, back in 2005, the Nobel Prize-winning writer suggested that he shoot a portfolio of black divas. Greenfield-Sanders liked the idea, but he had something broader in mind. He asked his friend Elvis Mitchell, a journalist and critic, to help him think of subjects for a portrait series.

“After scribling 175 names on napkins, Mitchell said, “Let’s call it the “Black List” – a negative term that we would make positive,” Greenfield-Sanders recalls. The brainstorming let to the HBO documentary “The Black List”: Volume One (a possible volume two is in talks), which premiered at Sundance earlier this year; a book; and a traveling exhibition of 25 portraits, on view at the Brooklyn Museum from the 21st of this month through March 29.

Greenfield-Sanders filmed and photographed his subjects-artist Lorna Simpson, Center for the Advancement of Women president Faye Wattleton, Colin Powell, Chris Rock, and Morrison among them – head-on, against neutral backgrounds with even lighting. Mitchell remained behind the camera as well. His prompts and questions were edited out to keep the focus on the subjects, who open up about race, beauty, culture, family, and hurdles in their careers.

“I became a curator at a moment when there hadn’t been many black curators,” Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, says in the documentary. “One of the funniest experiences I had was that people always assumed I worked for Thelma Golden, not that I was Thelma Golden.”