It's Black History Month, and WGBH is proud to join WORLD Channelin shining the spotlight on visionary filmmaker Stanley Nelson and his production company Firelight Media. As a director and producer, Nelson has documented some of the most pivotal moments in American history, and his work has contributed vital insights into Black history and culture in America. Nelson’s latest documentary, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool will air on WGBH 2 on February 25 and WORLD Channel on February 29. WORLD has also partnered with Nelson to produce Your Voice, Your Story, a series of shorts with a diverse group of actors, journalists, and trailblazers speaking about their lives and work, which is now streaming on WORLD's YouTube channel.

Here’s what you need to know about this influential filmmaker:

His films have covered a wide range of topics relevant to Black history and culture.

From American Experience's Freedom Riders, to The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, American Experience's The Murder of Emmett Tilland Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges & Universities, his films have deftly chronicled the African American experience in America. He also recently directed Vick, a two-part documentary for ESPN’s 30 for 30, which looks back at NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s shocking rise and fall.

For more than 20 years, Firelight Media has been telling stories that you won’t see anywhere else.

In 1998, Nelson and his wife Marcia Smith founded Firelight Mediawith the goal of examining topics that are underrepresented in the mainstream media by supporting documentaries made by and about communities of color. Films include Boss: The Black Experience in Business, which traces 150 years of history as African American entrepreneurs become moguls at the top of million-dollar empires, and American Experience's Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, which takes a deep dive into understanding the people who followed Jim Jones to South America in their tragic search for an ideal society.

He’s passionate about cultivating the next generation of filmmakers — and beyond.

Through Firelight’s Documentary Lab, Nelson mentors emerging filmmakers of color and provides them with funding as well as opportunities to network and attend professional development workshops. “If you want to change the narrative, if you want to change the story, you have to change who tells the story,” he has saidabout supporting young filmmakers. “It’s really important that people tell their own stories. If you want depth of feeling and richness, you can’t be swimming on the top. You have to go deep.” Some recent films include Call Her Ganda by PJ Raval, which explores the aftermath and political implications when a trans woman is murdered in the Philippines, and Independent Lens: Always in Season by Jacqueline Olive, which explores how the history of lynching African Americans connects with today's racial violence. This film will air on WGBH 2 on February 24 and WORLD Channel on February 26. And Nelson's mentorship isn't limited to emerging filmmakers. Just last month, he and Firelight launched a new grant for filmmakers of color at the mid-point in their careers to ensure that they remain in the field and continue to tell underrepresented stories.

He has had more documentaries screen at Sundance than any other filmmaker.

Nelson is a prolific documentarian and holds the distinction of premiering the most documentaries at Sundance, the country’s largest independent film festival, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2019, his film Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool premiered at the festival, along with two films that came out of Firelight's Documentary Lab: Always in Seasonand Words from a Bear.

He’s won many notable awards, including the National Humanities Medal.

Nelson’s exceptional work has been recognized by three Primetime Emmy Awards, two awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant." And in 2013, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama. “By using his camera to tell both well-known and lesser-known narratives, Mr. Nelson has exposed injustices and highlighted triumphs, revealing new depths of our nation’s history,” President Obama said when Nelson received the honor.

American Masters' Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool airs on WGBH 2 on Tuesday, February 25 and WORLD Channel on Saturday, February 29.
Learn more about WORLD Channel's Black History Month programming.