Monica Land first had the idea for a Fannie Lou Hamer documentary in 2005. Two years later, earnest efforts to make the film a possibility began to take off, but it took another nine years — until 2016 — to assemble a team and coordinate schedules to make production their primary creative focus. Now, in February 2022, the finished product, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America is at last having its premiere.

To call this a labor of love would be an understatement. It may be more accurate to think of the documentary as a realization of personal responsibility; an avenue to give voice to a relentlessly active figure of the civil rights movement. Fannie Lou Hamer’s America is also a humanizing treatment. This is made all the more profound when you realize that Land, the film’s co-producer, is also Hamer’s grand-niece.

“My family hardly ever, if ever, talked about her activism and her humanitarianism,” Land said. “It was always about her as a person, how funny she was, she liked to laugh and she loved to cook and she was a very hard worker.” But as Land grew older, her perception of “Aunt Fannie Lou” began to shift. “I didn't realize who she was until I was a teenager in high school and began to research her history and just wanted to know more about her.”

Fannie Lou Hamer’s America demonstrates the power of perspective. Here’s a documentary created by someone whose memory of Hamer is unlike the majority of others — that’s the rub when the subject is your great-aunt. But beyond that, or perhaps because of it, this is entirely Hamer’s story.

There is no omniscient narrator. There are no talking heads or historians or expert witnesses. This is an archival collage featuring the voice of Fannie Lou Hamer; the only other voices serve the express purpose to prompt her responses. Archival footage dominates the visual scene, too: color images of cotton fields, for example, illustrate the depth of her words and memories of being sent to work in her youth.

“One of the things that we were very adamant about, is that we did not want a narrator or someone else to come in and talk about her,” Land explained. “We had enough footage for her to tell her own story, and it just made it so much more dramatic, and so [director] Joy Davenport, being the genius that she is, was able to formulate that into a story.”

When work on the film was still underway, Land said a constant concern was the release date. Would there be a news peg? A relevant event to tie its premiere to?

“‘Hey, let's try to get this done for Black History Month. Hey, let's try to get this done for women's history month — or breast cancer awareness,’” Land remembered discussing, but troubles with funding slowed production early on. A cascade of tragic injustices — Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile — increased pressure for a “timely” release. But then came a concern that these references would actually date the documentary; Land pointed out there was always, seemingly, going to be another tragedy. Emmett Till, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. “You know, it’s something all the time,” she said.

Yet, Land argued that such exclusions kept the project timeless. “Because the same things that Aunt Fannie Lou was fighting for 50 years ago are the same things people are trying to accomplish today,” she said.

Land’s mission was to tell a story — or rather, to let someone many have overlooked tell her own story with her own voice. Fannie Lou Hamer’s America is an example of work that preserves the memory of one in a vast historical record. “I was working on [the film’s] website,” Land said. “If Aunt Fannie Lou were President of the United States, this website would be her presidential library.”

Fannie Lou Hamer’s America premieres Feb. 22 and on WORLD Channel on February 24.