Marcia Smith, Co-Founder and President of Firelight Media, To Step Down; National Search To Be Conducted

Firelight Media
5 min readMay 23, 2024
A photograph of Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith in formal wear holding a glass award presented by Art21 at the Art21 Family Reunion in 2022.
Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith at the Art21 Family Reunion in 2022. Photo by Sean Zanni/PMC, courtesy of Art21.

Firelight Media, the nonprofit organization co-founded by filmmaker Stanley Nelson as the premier destination for nonfiction cinema by and about communities of color, today announced that its Co-Founder and President Marcia Smith will step down from her leadership role when a successor is chosen. Smith co-founded the organization with her partner Stanley Nelson and has overseen the broad expansion of its programs over the past two decades. A national search will begin this month to identify a new president.

Under Smith’s leadership, Firelight Media has grown from a small nonprofit production company primarily organized around documentary films directed by Stanley Nelson and written by Smith to a robust artist support organization offering several fellowship, grant, production, and impact programs for documentary filmmakers of color at all stages of their careers, including its flagship Documentary Lab. At Firelight Media, Smith has built a pipeline for emerging filmmakers to help them establish sustainable careers in the nonfiction film industry through public and commercial media by forging program partnerships with PBS — including a fellowship with FRONTLINE and two documentary short film series co-produced with PBS’ American Masters and PBS Digital Studios, respectively — as well as partnerships with commercial streamers like Hulu. Firelight Media’s alumni network now includes more than 250 filmmakers and impact producers, including documentary industry leaders such as Dawn Porter (Trilogy Films), Peter Nicks (Proximity Media), P.J. Raval (Unraval Pictures), Jason DaSilva (AXS Lab), Set Hernandez (Undocumented Filmmakers Collective), and Ani Mercedes (Looky Looky Pictures), among many others.

For her leadership of Firelight Media and the documentary field more broadly, Smith’s work has been recognized with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, known as the “MacArthur Genius” award for organizations (awarded to Firelight Media, 2014), the Muse Award from New York Women in Film and Television (2016), the Luminary Award from BlackStar Film Festival (2019), and the Mel Novikoff Award from SFFILM (2023), as well as recent honors from Art21 (2022) and Harlem Stage (2021).

In addition to her nonprofit leadership, Smith is an accomplished filmmaker, having produced and written several films under the Firelight Films production company banner, including Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom; Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities; Through the Fire: The Legacy of Barack Obama; Freedom Riders; Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple; Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind; and The Murder of Emmett Till. Smith received a Primetime Emmy nomination and won the Writers’ Guild Award for best nonfiction writing for her work on The Murder of Emmett Till. Smith is also the author of the acclaimed book Black America, released in 2003. Smith is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Writers Guild of America and currently sits on the Peabody Board of Directors — East Coast and the Board of Directors of the International Documentary Association (IDA) and the North Florida African American Corridor Project.

“It has been a joy to lead Firelight Media through an extraordinary two decades of growth and expansion as Co-Founder and President,” said Marcia Smith. “From the outset, Stanley and I understood the transformative potential of documentary films that center communities of color in front of and behind the camera. What we did not anticipate is how much the filmmakers we’ve supported would transform the industry as a whole. There is certainly more work to be done, but I’m proud of the impact that the Firelight Media community has had on representing a fuller picture of the American story — not only through their films but through their own production companies and access programs. As I near the end of my tenure as President of Firelight Media, I have full confidence in the board, the staff, and our community of filmmakers to advance this work together.”

“I’m truly amazed by what Firelight has accomplished since Marcia and I launched it in 1998,” said Firelight Media Co-Founder and Lead Mentor Stanley Nelson. “Back then, we were focused on producing stories about underrepresented issues and communities that we wanted to see on screen. Today, Firelight Media is proud to support other filmmakers who share this vision. Under Marcia’s astute leadership, our artist support programs have flourished, creating a support system for filmmakers of color in various stages of their careers. I am grateful to Marcia for her foresight and dedication to making this organization as impactful as it is today.”

“Under Marcia’s leadership, Firelight Media has grown exponentially during a period of rapid transformation within the documentary field,” said Firelight Media Board Chair Anne Canty. “We are grateful to Marcia for her tireless work in shaping the organization and its mission during her tenure and in our search for a new president.”

Marcia Smith will continue to serve Firelight Media by assisting with its upcoming 25th Anniversary Celebration. Smith will also pursue archival and installation projects that build on her work on a projection mapping project for the opening of the National Museum for African American History and Culture in 2016 and her curation of the African American History Pop-up Museum installation in the unique and historic Florida panhandle city of Apalachicola.

Firelight Media is launching a national search for a new president this month. The organization plans to appoint a new leader ahead of its 25th anniversary year in 2025. The search will be led by Firelight Media’s Board of Directors and assisted by the executive recruitment firm Koya Partners | Diversified Search Group.

About Firelight Media

Firelight Media is a premier destination for non-fiction cinema by and about communities of color. Firelight Media produces documentary films, supports filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. Firelight Media’s programs include the Documentary Lab, an 18-month fellowship that supports emerging filmmakers of color; Groundwork Regional Lab, which supports emerging filmmakers in the American South, midwest, and U.S. territories; and the William Greaves Research & Development Fund, for mid-career nonfiction filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities, among others. Firelight Media also produces digital short film series, including the forthcoming season three of In the Making, with PBS American Masters, and a collection of regional short films, Homegrown: A Part Of/Apart From, with PBS.

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Firelight Media

Firelight Media is a nonprofit organization that supports, resources, and advocates on behalf of documentary filmmakers of color.