Filmmaker Shola Lynch’s New Role in Bringing Our Stories to the Masses

The celebrated documentary director will be the curator of moving images and recorded sound at Harlem’s Schomburg Center.

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Shola Lynch

Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Shola Lynch has emerged as one of the most exciting black female filmmakers in recent memory. Her groundbreaking documentaries—2004’s Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed, on the history-making presidential campaign of black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm; and 2013’s Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, the story of iconic black activist Angela Davis—have established her as both a talented filmmaker and an artist with an eye on history.

Which makes Lynch’s new role seem custom-made for her. Lynch was recently named the curator for the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

Lynch, who was a collegiate track star before a chance meeting at a party after graduate school led her to a job with legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, said she can’t wait to begin combing through the archives and compiling top 10 and top 100 lists of great black films.

“Whenever I make a film about Angela Davis or Shirley Chisholm, I am negotiating the worth of that subject,” Lynch said in an interview with The Root. “Often the questions that are asked of me [by funders] are, ‘Who’s going to watch that?’” She continued, “I’m at the Schomburg, and let me tell you, I don’t have to negotiate the worth of Shirley Chisholm or Angela Davis as a story. I feel like I’m living in this wonderful bubble or utopia. The worth of our stories is not negotiated here, and it’s very empowering.” 

Lynch, who is currently in development for her next film on Harriet Tubman, recently discussed her plans for the Schomburg’s archives with The Root.

The Root: Can you tell us about your new role?

Shola Lynch: My new role at the Schomburg now is in the moving-image and audio collection. The original curator, James Briggs Murray, collected a large amount of material. We’re now trying to figure out what’s in the collection to make it available to the public.

There are some real gems in here, and so my job is to be the face and the vision of the collection and also to work with programming here at the Schomburg so that we can exhibit this kind of material, with the shows [and] programming films. I have a million ideas about what to do. My first order of business is to get through the collection and get it properly organized so I can make it open to researchers.

TR: Can you tell us about some of the gems you’ve come across?

SL: I was listening to some audio of the sleeping car porters collection, and I’d never heard A. Philip Randolph speaking. It was really wonderful to hear his voice. Obviously he was influenced by Paul Robeson. He’s pre-Sidney Poitier! [Laughs.]

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