The Library of Congress Wants Our Help

by Cheryl D. Fields

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Library of Congress. I hadn’t been there since before former President Obama appointed Carla Diane Hayden Librarian of Congress in 2016. The library was as stunning as ever, and I was especially thrilled to explore “Not an Ostrich,” an exhibition of historic and contemporary pictures from the library’s extensive photographic collection. Images of Black folks in moments of glory, hardship and triumph over the centuries were included and left me brimming with pride. It’s good to see the nation’s premiere library taking diversity, equity and inclusion so seriously, especially when you consider that its origins were built upon Thomas Jefferson’s collection.

Carla Diane Hayden, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Next Monday (Aug. 15), the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry will close its 2022 call for public nominations. Public nominations play a key role when the Librarian and Film Board are considering their final selections. To be eligible for the Registry, a film must be at least 10 years old and be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” I’m writing this post to urge everyone in the Black Public Media family to take a few minutes and submit at least two nominations.

The Registry is intended to reflect American society and the rich tapestry of American cinema since its inceptions around 1890. Registry criteria does not specifically prohibit television programs, commercials, music videos or foreign productions, however, the original intent of the legislation that established the Registry was to safeguard U.S. films. The National Film Preservation Board and the Librarian of Congress give first consideration to American motion pictures.

Films by and about Black folks were rare prior to the latter 20th century. To ensure that our stories and our contributions to the canon are included, it is important for as many of us as possible to submit nominations. Individuals are allowed to nominate up to 50 titles per year.

I wouldn’t dare tell any of you which films to nominate. But if we do nothing, the likelihood of our films being selected is diminished. I’ve been submitting titles since last week and it has been big fun remembering those that have moved and touched me over the decades. It has also encouraged me to re-screen some of my favorites.

One of the beauties of this democracy is the vast number of opportunities we have to lift our voices and be heard. Yes, there is a cohort of Americans who are vigilantly working to suppress our voices and limit our influence, but we are free to push back and we must take every opportunity to do so. The Library of Congress National Film Registry is just one small way for us to say, “We’re here, we’ve contributed, and we demand to be included.” So, don’t let Aug. 15 pass without submitting your nominations. Future generations of Americans are counting on us to be represented.

— Fields leads BPM’s Marketing, Communication and Engagement Team

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Black Public Media

Black Public Media (BPM) develops, produces, funds, and distributes media content about the African American and global Black experience.