Creativity & The Arts

Michael H. Cottman, "Shackles From The Deep"

In continued celebration of Black History Month, National Geographic recently released books by authors, Ann Bausum and Michael H. Cottman, who have each devoted their careers to discovery, research, exploration and impact. These authors tell the unvarnished truth about African American history during the slave trade (Cottman’s Shackles From The Deep) and the Civil Rights Movement (Bausum’s The March Against Fear). While Black History Month is coming to a close, these books and the authors' thoughts, below, remind us that black history is America’s history and celebrated every day.

Michael H. Cottman: Shackles From The Deep

Michael H. Cottman, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author, is a former political reporter for the Washington Post. Cottman also serves as a special consultant to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration for a national multimedia project, "Voyage to Discovery," an education initiative that focuses on the African-American contribution to the maritime industry spanning 300 years and efforts to teach students of color about careers in marine biology and oceanography. ‘Shackles From The Deep’ is more than just the story of one ship, the ‘Henrietta Marie’—it's the untold story of millions of people taken as captives to the New World. Told from Cottman’s perspective, this book introduces young readers to the wonders of diving, detective work, and discovery, while shedding light on the history of slavery.

What inspired you to explore the Henrietta Marie and write Shackles from the Deep?

When I was working on the first book, The Wreck of Henrietta Marie, I started talking to my daughter about it and she said that she thought it would be a good idea to write something that would resonate with young people. I thought, “maybe she’s onto something”, so I began to talk about how to share this story with young people in a way that would resonate with them to discuss the pain and injustice of the slave trade and in a conversational way that they can relate to and understand. I thought the best way to do it would be through writing Shackles From The Deep, because it’s part detective story, part underwater mystery, part personal journey and part history. 

Historians come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Why do you think it’s important for African Americans to study and to tell the story about African American history?

I think it’s important so that we get the story right. In a lot of cases, I’ve talked to scholars and historians who say that we need to be in the position to tell our own stories so that we can pass these truths to the generations of young people who come after us. It’s important for them to know their heritage, to know their lineage, to know about the horrible global business of slavery. But, it’s also important for young people to know that because of slavery, there was genius that was brought to these shores by African people. What I mean by that is the mathematics, poetry, culture and music—the elements that all Americans and all races appreciate to this day. I think it’s important for young African American kids to understand their history, but also understand that there is an uplifting element that has evolved and come out of the pain of slavery. 

How does the discovery of slave ships, like the Henrietta Marie, help us to better understand not just African American history, but American history?

African American history is American history. African American history is global history, a collective history. To illustrate that, I would point people to a partnership between the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and the maritime archaeologists who we partnered with to explore and examine the Henrietta Marie slave ship. During this discovery, we witnessed an unprecedented effort—white and black divers coming together to explore a slave ship. Corey Malcolm, the Director of Archaeology at the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, said to me, “This is part of our collective history. There is no better illustration of this collective history than white divers and black divers coming together to explore this slave ship.”

If we want to take a step towards racial healing or cultural understanding, we must the acknowledge pain and injustice of the past, and that’s what we did together during this project. We acknowledged the pain and injustice of the past by examining the Henrietta Marie.

If you could describe African American history in three words, what would they be?

Education, illumination and necessity.

Michael H. Cottman, Ann Bausum, National Geographic

Ann Bausum: The March Against Fear

Award-winning author, Ann Bausum writes about U.S. history for young people, and she has published eight titles with National Geographic Children's Books. Her latest, ‘The March Against Fear’, explores James Meredith's 1966 march in Mississippi, which started as one man's peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South's most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement.

What inspired you to write The March Against Fear?

I’ve spent two decades exploring under told stories from our nation’s past, particularly ones about the quest for social justice. This story called out to be told for those reasons and because it shares essential history about the evolving nature of the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

You note that Meredith’s efforts were “nearly forgotten.” How did you learn about James Meredith? Based on your research, do you think there are stories, like Meredith’s, that have been left untold?

I’ve known for decades about James Meredith, especially his integration of the University of Mississippi, but also the March Against Fear. The Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of him after he’d been shot along the roadside is burned on my brain; we use that image to open the book. As for untold stories, they are legion. The Hidden Figures books and film prove that—these stories tend to emerge vicariously, so it’s the job of authors and publishers to spot them and latch on.

Why is it so important for our country, and especially our young students, to continue to learn the untold stories of Civil Rights leaders such as James Meredith?

Some of our untold stories are left untold intentionally. They may fall outside of a national narrative of uplift, make us feel uncomfortable, or force us to face past mistakes. I would argue that the best way to avoid such mistakes is to learn about them. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do that any number of times with National Geographic.

If you could describe African American history in three words, what would they be?

Essential American stories.


 The March Against Fear and Shackles From The Deep are both available for purchase through the National Geographic store; author interviews conducted by Christian Garland for National Geographic.


Ghetto Film School, 21st Century Fox Social Impact

Ghetto Film School, an award-winning nonprofit and 21st Century Fox partner, is currently recruiting for its 2017-19 Fellows Program. The Fellows Program is an immersive narrative filmmaking program for high schoolers based in NYC or LA, and free of charge for all students. 

Ghetto Film School (GFS) provides high school students with a substantive and rigorous filmmaking program to develop the next generation of great American storytellers. GFS graduates go on to enroll at prestigious universities and enter the creative industry with impressive professional experience. GFS New York was created in 2000 by Joe Hall, and after years of tremendous growth with interest from the Hollywood community, 21CF helped launched GFS Los Angeles in 2014. 

“What Joe and his team have built in the Bronx has delivered real results from an incredible focus and a feel for storytelling," said James Murdoch, 21CF CEO. “They’ve discovered talented kids and have made a difference in their lives."

The Fellows Program is a 30-month pre-professional program for young storytellers ages 14-18. Students receive 1,000 hours of hands-on training in screenwriting, camera operation, editing, and sound mixing from leading filmmakers and industry experts on live sets and in studios. They develop short films, commercials, and other creative content, and have the chance to shoot abroad in locations like London and Tokyo and screen their films at venues such as the Lincoln Center. Throughout the program, students also undergo college application advising and test prep support, as well as connections to paid internships at top media and creative companies.

Simone Walker, a 15-year-old high school student from LA who participated in the 2013-15 Fellows program, said, "I see myself going into the film industry as a producer or an assistant director, but education comes first... Being 15, college is something I've spent a lot of time thinking about but not having a good idea of what I had to do or how it worked. The program really helped me to understand what college is and what I've got to do to succeed in it.”

Interested students in NYC or LA should visit https://www.ghettofilm.org/ for details; applications must be submitted by March 15, 2017 for consideration.

21CF GFS 2016 Final from 21CF Impact on Vimeo.


Gavin Grimm talks to Couric about his story and having his case heard by the Supreme Court

The two-hour National Geographic special, Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric, celebrated its world premiere at the New York Times Center on Thursday, February 2. The documentary accompanies National Geographic’s January issue, which dives into the world’s rapidly changing beliefs about gender in 2017.

Gender Revolution approaches the conversation of gender through lenses of social relations, brain chemistry, cultural norms and personal experience. Couric’s interest in gender identity arose three years ago, when her daughter came home from college and mentioned that new classes began with each student sharing their name and preferred gender pronoun. “I thought there was so much important information behind the headlines, the tweets, the articles—and I wanted to take a step back to see if it all indicated a shift in our thinking and really roll up my sleeves to connect the dots,” said Couric at Thursday’s premiere.

Gavin Grimm is a high school senior and transgender male whose story is one of the many featured in the film. Two years ago, Gavin’s school ruled that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom despite identifying as a boy—the case made its way up to national debate and will now be heard by the Supreme Court in the spring. “I’m excited for the humanization that this documentary will bring to the trans community, because for a lot of people, it’s still just an abstract concept…There’s not a lot of representation of trans people in television or other forms of media…so I’m hoping it will bring a clear look at who trans people are,” says Gavin.

The film premiere was followed by a panel of notable experts, doctors, and activists, including Hari Nef, the first openly transgender woman to sign a global modeling contract, and Georgiann Davis, professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, both of whom were featured in the documentary. The panel was moderated by Susan Goldberg, editor-in-chief of National Geographic.

Gender Revolution is produced by Katie Couric Media with National Geographic Studios, premieres on National Geographic television on Monday, February 6 at 9pm Eastern, and will air around the world in 171 countries and 45 languages. In partnership with Picture Motion, National Geographic will also be hosting free screenings of Gender Revolution at high schools, colleges, and nonprofits around the country.

Watch the trailer now:  


Fox Filmmakers Lab Class

Fox and the American Film Institute have selected 25 of the most dynamic new voices in Hollywood to participate in the Fox Filmmakers Lab, a mentoring program designed to increase the number of female directors working in the industry. The group consists of alumnae of the AFI Conservatory and the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, and the Lab will allow each of them to develop a short film concept based on Fox’s franchise titles, such as Alien, Planet of the Apes, Predator and more, providing the necessary experience to work on more major studio films as they progress in their careers.

“The dearth of female directors is not a matter of passion or talent,” said 20th Century Fox Film Chairman and CEO Stacey Snider when the partnership was announced in September. "Instead, it's often a question of access and resources. We're excited to offer these to talented women filmmakers who then can build upon this practical work experience."

The directors will spend the spring working closely with 20th Century Fox to develop their material and eventually pitch franchise or reboot ideas to Fox executives. The studio will then choose one or more of the filmmakers to make their concepts into short films. The program allows participants to gain critical experience in the action and science fiction genres, in which female voices are often underrepresented, clearing the way for future work on large-scale studio productions.

The filmmakers will be able to add the projects to their portfolios and pitch Fox feature films unrelated to the shorts in the future.

“AFI believes that the future of this American art form is a true symphony of voices,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO. “This landmark collaboration with Fox [will] impact the art and entertainment landscape in a profound way.”

The partnership with AFI continues a long tradition across 21st Century Fox entertainment businesses to support and develop the next generation of storytellers, particularly those from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film and television industry. The company has launched several programs to bring new voices to light in Hollywood, including the Global Directors Initiative and the FOX Writers Intensive, and is a key partner of Ghetto Film School, a nonprofit that teaches filmmaking to diverse young students in historically underserved communities in New York and Los Angeles.

Learn more about the Fox Filmmakers Lab, including the full list of AFI alumnae selected.


Fresh Off The Boat

20th Century Fox Television’s hit series Fresh Off The Boat has partnered with Six-Word Memoirs on a new crowd-sourced book: Six Words Fresh Off The Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America (September 2017). This newest compilation in the bestselling series will feature the personal, complex, and profound emotions that generations of immigrants have felt as they built new lives in America.

“Fresh off the Boat reflects and celebrates the immigrant experiences of millions of people across generations. With this crowd-sourced book elevating voices from all across America, we hope to inspire anyone who identifies with the subject matter directly or through the lives of past generations to share their story in six words,” said Steven Melnick, Head of Marketing at 20th Century Fox Television. His six-worder: “Grandma's Sunday greeting: gotenyu zisa boychickel,” which translates from Yiddish to “Dear God, what a sweet boy.” Other examples

Carried few possessions and many dreams.

Sister pretends she can't use chopsticks.

Feuding with three family members? Persian.

Fresh Off the Boat, now in its third season on ABC, is loosely based on the memoir of entrepreneur and restaurateur Eddie Huang. The show follows a Taiwanese-American family as they adjust to a new life in 1990’s suburban Florida. The Six-Word Memoir Project was started by Larry Smith in 2006 when his tweet, “Can you describe your life in six words?” went viral around the world.

Fans can submit their own immigrant stories at sixwordmemoirs.com/FOTB through February 15 to be considered for publication in the book.