North Carolina filmmakers won a regional Emmy last month for their documentary on the first historically Black university in the South, Shaw University.
The film, "Shaw Rising", was created by Hal Goodtree, a producer with Goodtree Studio in Cary, in partnership with Donna Mitchell, president and founder of Horizon Productions in Durham, and Tim Finkbiner, chief production officer for Horizon Productions.
Shaw is a private liberal arts university in Raleigh. It was the first college in North Carolina to offer a four-year medical school, the first institution of higher learning established for freedmen after the Civil War and the first HBCU in the nation to admit women.
"Shaw Rising" tells the story of Shaw University’s history, from its founding by Dr. Henry Martin Tupper in 1865, through Shaw’s experience in the Jim Crow Era South and the Civil Rights Movement, to celebrating the university’s 150th anniversary. The film closes at the inauguration of the university’s 18th president, Paulette Dillard, in 2019.
“I think the story of Shaw University is one of the great stories in America that hadn't really been told in this way,” Goodtree said. “It was humbling and thrilling to sit down and talk to some of these people who were at the center of American history in the 1960s.”
Goodtree said they began working on the film in 2015 after being approached by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation about the idea, an organization that helped fund the project. He said they faced some roadblocks in creating the film — like getting access to archival photos and navigating the changes in leadership that were happening at Shaw at the time — but loved getting to work closely with those involved with the university’s history.
The film premiered on UNC-TV on February 26, 2020, and won a regional Midsouth Emmy in the Documentary/Historical category on February 26, 2021. Goodtree, Finkbiner and Mitchell all agreed that while awards aren’t everything, they were thrilled to receive recognition from an institution like the Emmys.
“I don’t make movies to win awards,” Finkbiner said. “With a great story, you just want to do your best job for the subject and people. But winning and getting that recognition, it was nice.”
Travis Mitchell, former chief content officer at UNC-TV, helped produce the documentary and get it to premiere on UNC-TV. He said Shaw is in his veins since his whole family went there and he grew up on and around the university’s campus.
He said he hopes younger generations will watch the film to learn about the deep and important history of Shaw, including why it is often called “the mother of HBCUs”.
“It’s vitally important to tell these stories,” he said. “And I saw this film as a way for the stories of Shaw University and other HBCUs to be validated.”
Marilyn Richards, the vice president for institutional advancement at Shaw who served as the Shaw producer for the documentary, said she’s proud of the film and getting to help tell the university’s history in this format.
“You can physically come to the campus, but this documentary will serve as an invisible vehicle by which everyone will be able to visualize who we are, what we do and why we do it,” she said.
Finkbiner said that Shaw owns the copyright to the film so they can use it to tell their own story, whether that be through hosting it on their website or using it in fundraising and recruiting efforts. Finkbiner, Goodtree and Mitchell all said that they hope the film will be played on a national network like PBS one day so the story can be told to a broad audience.
“Our history is rich,” Richards said. “And we not only preserve our legacy through 'Shaw Rising,' but we ensure our future by being able to look at the film and see what our foundation was and how we will move forward.”
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