Influenced by Civil Rights Movement
Before the 90s, the film industry was a pipedream for Black Americans because opportunities were scarce, and asinine character roles were given to Black actors. But there were a select few people who opened the door for themselves, which led to others following. One of those pioneers is Sam Pollard.
Pollard, a native of Harlem, NY, was admittedly “mesmerized” during the 1960s by the images and colors on the TV at a young age. “Ever since I was nine years old, I liked watching movies on the television because it was like an escape from reality,” Pollard said as he talked about his first interactions with the film world. “I was big on Western movies, fantasy films, and Hollywood films. These were stories told in different ways, with some being dramatic, while others were funny, which allowed me to immerse myself into the storyline.”
While Pollard did enjoy films and how they provided an escape from reality for him, he still was aware of his environment and everything going on, especially the Civil Rights Movement. Pollard said when introduced to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s work and achievements. “When I got older and was introduced to the work and history of Black leaders, I stopped viewing the world from a white lens or white person perspective and realized the bigger picture,” Pollard said. “I was always curious about learning about my people, where we came from, and why America was the way it was. Growing up heightened my perception of the world.”
Pollard studied marketing in college and graduated in 1973, but also became more interested in film after speaking to some influential figures in his life.
“I wasn’t happy with the marketing classes I attended, so after my junior year, I saw my counselor about changing my major. She already knew I was interested in film, and that was when she advised me to partake in a PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) workshop that was actively recruiting Black and Latino students after the assassination of Martin Luther King,” he said.
Pollard learned the foundation of working behind the scenes in the television industry from the workshop which lasted for one year. The program was two nights a week, and I learned how to work cameras, record audio, lighting, editing, and everything that goes into creating a film.”
After attending the program from 1971 to 72, Pollard was able to land an apprentice editor role for a low-budget film called “Ganja and Hess,” which was led by editor Victor Kanefsky in 1973. Kanefsky became a mentor to Pollard as they worked together for three years. Pollard got his first shot at being the lead editor of a film in 1978 when he edited the film ‘Just Crazy About Horses’ directed by Kanefsky, which was received extremely well by the viewers. But while he received praise, Pollard knew he was in a delicate position as very few people in the television industry had the same skin color as him.
“During this time, it was only John Carter and Frank Host that were the only Black editors with the spotlight on them,” Pollard said as he described the lack of representation in the industry during the ‘70s.” Pollard rarely crossed paths with other Black editors during the decades.
“When I met George Bowers and St. Clair Bourne, and working with them over the years and developing a mentor and friendship dynamic, I started to become invested into telling the Black stories that my fellow mentors and friends were known for,” Pollard said as he talked about the influence both Bowers and Bourne had on why he started filming movies directed to the Black audience. “I never wanted to be pigeonholed into just being a Black director, but with guidance from my mentors, I could tell our stories from a unique perspective.”
Pollard has directed, produced, and edited major Black movies over the past three decades. Audiences can see his work in films such as Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues,”’ “Juice,” and “4 Little Girls” as well as “The Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela” by filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris. Pollard’s career is decorated with seven Emmy awards for films such as “Eyes On The Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads,” “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama,” and a 2023 IDA Best Music Documentary award for “Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes.” Pollard has also received four Peabody awards for his films.
Now Pollard is being honored By BPM (Black Public Media) with their Trailblazer Award as they recognize him as a triple threat in the film industry and pioneering culture-shifting films during the decades.
“It’s an honor receiving this award, and to be recognized by a Black organization shows the journey and growth Black America has made since I started in the film industry,” Pollard noted. “The abundance of Black filmmakers is exciting, and I hope I can help with their growth and development.”