Community//

Stacey L. Holman: “Know where you end, when someone begins”

My work as a documentary filmmaker allows me the opportunity to shed light on individuals and stories that might have gotten lost or overlooked and it allows me to expand on a narrative that’s incomplete — American history. The projects that I have had the privilege to associate produce, produce, and direct, reflect my ideology socially and […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

My work as a documentary filmmaker allows me the opportunity to shed light on individuals and stories that might have gotten lost or overlooked and it allows me to expand on a narrative that’s incomplete — American history. The projects that I have had the privilege to associate produce, produce, and direct, reflect my ideology socially and politically. From “Freedom Riders” to “Freedom Summer”, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and University to “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War” these films have put a spotlight not only on the injustices against African American people, it says clearly, Black history is American history. I also believe that it is my responsibility as a storyteller, whether scripted or documentary, to share as many truths as possible about the African American experience in the past and in the present.


As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacey L. Holman, a Harlem-based filmmaker who’s directed/produced several award-winning projects including episode three of the 2018 PBS series Reconstruction: America After the Civil War hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. She was a producer on the critically acclaimed documentary Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities and served as Associate Producer on the Emmy award-winning film Freedom Riders produced/directed by Stanley Nelson. Additionally, Stacey was Coordinating Producer for Nelson’s Peabody Award-winning documentary Freedom Summer, and she was Co-Producer on Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band.

Stacey’s short film Dressed Like Kings garnered the Tribeca Film Festival All Access Award and aired on the WORLD Channel as part of the AfroPoP Shorts Program. She was the Series Producer/Director of Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s Black Church series The Black Church: This Is Our Story. This Is Our Song scheduled to broadcast on PBS in February 2021 and she is currently one of the producers/directors on Gates’ Making Black America: African American Social Networks airing on PBS in the fall of 2021.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

This story begins in the basement of my maternal grandparents’ where as a kid I would ambush my cousins into putting on a skit for family members, and if I recall I believe I was always the director. Fast forward to my time as an undergrad at Dillard University in New Orleans University which provided a space for me to develop and create short news pieces, perform and direct theatre productions. Once I finished undergrad, I was accepted at NYU Tisch School of the Arts grad film program where I honed my film skills. After grad school, you can say there were some fits and starts with trying to make a living as a filmmaker. During that season, I worked at a Black-owned art gallery in Harlem that not only schooled me on artists of color but fueled me creatively. I would soon stumble on a story about a group of South African Dandies that expanded my storytelling interests from only scripted to unscripted. Meanwhile, I continued to knock on production company doors until finally, I landed a position with Stanley Nelson’s Firelight Media, a door I had knocked on before. All I can say is, keep knocking, a door/window will open.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I was alone in the office one afternoon and the phones around me kept ringing nonstop. For some reason that particular day, every time it rang it was a grating sound almost like nails on a chalkboard. Finally, my phone rang, and I was super annoyed because I was in a work groove. Well, I picked up, with all my annoyance dripping, “Hello, this is Stacey.” The caller responded: “Hello, Stacey, this is Oprah.” I was immediately annoyed at my annoyance and I literally began to stutter! I got myself together and we proceeded to have a nice chat about “Freedom Riders,” a film that I associate produced. Ten years later, I got a chance to work with Oprah on “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.”

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

When we were filming Stanley Nelson’s “Freedom Summer,” I met several incredible men and women in the civil rights movement including two legends Bob Moses and Dave Dennis. Listening to their first-person accounts of Mississippi in 1963–1964 was incredibly riveting. Moses did a roll call of the locals that helped lead the movement; Dennis was more emotional as he reflected on giving the eulogy of James Cheney and seeing the face of Ben Cheney, “I just lost it.” I did as well.

On every project, I’ve interacted with some amazing people from Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Rev. William Barber II, Bishop Michael Curry, Bryan Stevenson, and three nonagenarians and a centenarian all who attended HBCUs.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m excited to be working again with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the four-hour series Making Black America (working title) on organizations (social and civic) created by and for Black people within the confines of segregation and outside of it. We’re showing the spaces that African Americans created socially, politically, and culturally. In addition, my producing partner and I are writing a scripted series about a longtime tradition at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Ida B. Wells. She was fearless, tenacious, and a force!

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

My work as a documentary filmmaker allows me the opportunity to shed light on individuals and stories that might have gotten lost or overlooked and it allows me to expand on a narrative that’s incomplete — American history. The projects that I have had the privilege to associate produce, produce, and direct, reflect my ideology socially and politically. From “Freedom Riders” to “Freedom Summer”, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and University to “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War” these films have put a spotlight not only on the injustices against African American people, it says clearly, Black history is American history. I also believe that it is my responsibility as a storyteller, whether scripted or documentary, to share as many truths as possible about the African American experience in the past and in the present.

Most recently, a documentary that premiered in February, I’m incredibly honored to have been involved in as the series producer/director was “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Coming out of and still in one of the most tumultuous times in history people are hurting, lonely, frustrated, in short folks are feeling a lot of emotions at once. In producing a series about the Black church, one constant was woven throughout the 400-year history — hope. Whatever hardship or injustice Black people faced, hope fueled and comforted them. I believe that same hope is needed today and the Black church reminds us of that.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

My “Aha Moment” came in 2003 when I was on a plane with my friend/cinematographer to Johannesburg, South Africa to meet a group of men that I read about in a New York Times article. This was my first time on the Continent and my first introduction to the world of documentary filmmaking. What triggered me was that I saw something more than what was written in that article, I saw the men in my family, I saw joy, and what was needed, I believed, at that moment was a story that people could connect to and could feel good about. Also, it’s important to show that there is fun and joy in documentary films.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I can’t say that there is just one person that has been impacted by the work I’m doing. “I didn’t know…” is the most common statement I hear when people watch the projects I’m associated with. So much of what is taught about American history is not the full story or it’s just plain not true, and as long as I keep hearing “I didn’t know…” I’m impacting the cause of telling the full history.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

  • For the individual, I encourage you to:
  • Support PBS. Really, it’s about ‘Viewers Like You.’
  • If you don’t see yourself represented or the full story being told send an email/write your local PBS station and national PBS. Change only comes if you make some noise.
  • Your voice matters, even if you’re the only one. And sometimes it’s that one voice that encourages someone else to speak up too.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Always trust your gut, even if that person may know more than you. I clearly remember speaking with a professor in grad school who was pretty established and I kept telling myself, “They know what’s up, they’re working in the field, what do I know?” even though my gut was saying, “they know somethings, not everything.”
  2. Be gentle on yourself. I’m truly my toughest critic and not always in a good way. It takes a lot of emotional, physical, and spiritual energy when you’re unreasonably hard on yourself. Take some deep breaths, acknowledge the short-comings and keep it moving.
  3. “Know where you end, when someone begins.” I have certain emotional triggers, and well some folks know how to hit them on the nose. When I see that happening I have learned to not engage, the one thing I can do at that moment is control how I respond.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to your peers. You’re setting yourself up to be disappointed (even though you shouldn’t be) by your career. Everyone has their own journey.
  5. Be present. Enjoy the moment, even the hard times. Sometimes I look back and cringe; I was so busy getting to the next thing that I missed out on spending more time with a friend or loved one.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. But it will never forget what they did here.” Abraham Lincoln. We all leave a footprint whether it’s creating art, respecting the environment or not, or maybe it’s pouring into someone’s life, whatever you do history is taking note.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Oprah Winfrey, of course. I’ve had two encounters with her so the third time will be a cherry on top. A close second is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; her command of language is poetic, nuanced, and powerful. I would love to collaborate with her.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite “life lesson quotes” comes from the good book, the Bible, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:13 is a go-to for pretty much every area of my life, it helps me to manage my emotions and more importantly my reactions.

How can our readers follow you online?

  • IG: @butterflyslh
  • Twitter: @blackbutterflys

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!


    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    Phyllis Stuart: “Nobody is coming on a white horse to solve this problem”

    by Karina Michel Feld
    A still from Roberto Minervini's 'What You Gonna Do When the World's On Fire?'
    Community//

    Roberto Minervini asks ‘What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire?’

    by E. Nina Rothe
    Community//

    J.R. Hardman: “Muslims in Love”

    by Karina Michel Feld
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.