Robin Hamilton | 3/4/2009, 7:43 a.m.
Gov. Deval Patrick is blacklisted — and he is in good company.
This month, HBO will release the second volume in its “The Black List” film series, which features prominent African Americans all over the country who are making history. The Bay State’s governor was one of a select few who made this “List,” which will premiere to local audiences at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester on Feb. 18.
“I was honored to be asked,” Patrick said. “I’m in pretty heavy company.”
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who directed and co-produced the film, said Patrick was a natural choice.
“We started working on this film before Barack Obama became president, and at the time, Deval Patrick was the most powerful African American political figure in the country,” he said.
The one-hour movie brings audiences face to face with 16 prominent African Americans who are shaping history in a variety of fields, including politics, religion, sports and entertainment. Other notables featured include renowned preacher and author Bishop T.D. Jakes, television and movie mogul Tyler Perry, and activist Angela Davis.
“It was the right thing at the right time. It was begging to be done,” the filmmaker said.
Greenfield-Sanders came up with the concept along with collaborator Elvis Mitchell, the former New York Times film critic, who conducted all of the interviews. They began brainstorming about ways to authentically tell the stories of successful African Americans.
“I had the feeling that there was some kind of project to do, and I wasn’t sure what it was,” he said. “We sat down at a little Thai restaurant, and we started to do it.”
“It” became a list of successful blacks who were changing the landscape of American life. That turned into the first film in the series, which debuted last year. Twenty-three prominent black figures are interviewed in that movie, including comedian Chris Rock, tennis star Serena Williams, former Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton and Vernon Jordan, close friend and legal advisor to former President Bill Clinton.
Each figure in the movie is filmed in Greenfield-Sanders’ trademark style: sitting in a chair in front of a simple white or neutral backdrop.
“I am a much more famous photographer than a director. The film is based on a look I have been shooting for 30 years,” Greenfield-Sanders said. “It is minimalist background, and it is always about the subject. That’s what we tried to do here.”
The subjects speak for only a few moments about their lives, their careers and what they think it means to be a person of color in this country.
“They asked me a wide range of questions, like what achievement meant to me, my thoughts about running for governor and about legacy as African Americans,” Patrick recalled.
As Greenfield-Sanders sees it, the simplicity and honesty of the film are what resonate most with audiences. Countless people have come up to him, he said, claiming they watched it four or five times.
“There is such an emotional response to this film,” he said.