Released in 1968, “Black on Black” has been hailed for its pioneering effort to capture the voices and experiences of black America during one of the most volatile times in the nation’s history.
Black on Black won six major awards, including the Edward R. Murrow Award for “distinguished television reporting and best documentary”; the Greater Los Angeles Press Club’s Best Documentary; Radio-Television News Directors Association’s Golden Mike; Associated Press Certificate of Excellence; the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy and the first NAACP Image Award.
“Notwithstanding the many fine films which have been made during and since the ascendancy of the civil rights movement, Saltzman’s Black on Black gets inside the minds and hearts of its subjects as no other documentary has quite done,” said writer in residence Norman Corwin, who spent 15 years as chairman of the Documentary Awards Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“It demonstrates beyond peradventure of doubt, that nobody can speak as revealingly and cogently about how it is to be black in an essentially white world, than blacks themselves. It is a film that achieves high effect at ground level.”
From “An Introduction to Black on Black” by the documentary’s producer, Joe Saltzman:
It was a difficult documentary to do. My conceit was to treat SouthCentral Los Angeles as if it were a foreign country, exploring the culture, the religion, the music, the hairstyles, the language, the customs, the daily life of what it was like to be black and live in an American city. The foreign country notion was not out of line. Most whites drove through South-Central Los Angeles on the Harbor Freeway traveling from one white community to another. USC students and faculty were warned not to venture off campus into the black community. Few whites knew anything about the large black community that made up a large part of the city.
I didn’t want any Caucasian reporter or a written narration getting in the way of the residents’ story. The idea was to tell the story through the eyes of the people who lived there, to form a narrative out of their own words and feelings, to tell their story without censorship or compromise. CBS management never understood the concept and up until two weeks before the program aired, they hoped we would use news anchor Jerry Dunphy to narrate the program. But thanks to Dan, we won the day and the documentary went on without any changes.
My goal was to get out of the way and let the urban blacks themselves tell their own story. I felt it was their documentary, not mine. So I spent hours with people in the community, simply watching, listening, looking and learning without any cameras or distractions. Only after I felt I understood the community and had all the pieces in place, would I then bring in the camera to actually shoot the documentary.
Watch Black On Black Online Now!