Nadia Hallgren doesn't make movies to be seen; she makes them to be felt. The filmmaker, who began her career as a cinematographer, marked her directorial debut with 2020's Becoming, an up-close look at former First Lady Michelle Obama's life after leaving the White House.
"I wanted people to have the experience that I had with her, sitting next to her in a car and that energy and bringing what that feels like into the film," she tells A.frame. "If that experience doesn't translate to film, it's a failure."
Hallgren took the same approach to her newest documentary, Civil, which turns its lens on Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney for the families of George Floyd, Andre Hill and Breonna Taylor. As a director, it was as important that viewers understood the man and his mission. "I can't say I'm the best at always describing my feelings," she says. "It's like I put my feelings into a camera and hopefully they come out that way."
Civil premieres on Netflix on Juneteenth, otherwise known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day and Black Independence Day. In honor of the holiday and the work done by the likes of Crump and Mrs. Obama — as well as her own moviemaking — Hallgren recommends to A.frame five films that highlight Black liberation.
Directed by: Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
I was a cinematographer on Trouble the Water. In the film, we followed a young woman named Kim Roberts who found herself in the middle of Hurricane Katrina with the inability to leave, because she didn't have resources. She took that opportunity to not only become a hero and save many members of her community, but also to document that experience and make a film. And we made a film within her film about that.
What stood out to me about meeting Kimberly was her drive and her will to survive and thrive and help others, even in this horrible natural disaster. And within that, to find herself and redefine herself in a new way. That, to me, very much symbolizes Black liberation — how we can take all of these circumstances and turn them into something else. That movie is really special to me, and I really love Kimberly Rivers Roberts. She taught me so much as a young filmmaker.
Directed by: Garrett Bradley
Fox [Rich], who is the main character of the film, is a woman who finds herself in a circumstance where her husband and the father of her children is incarcerated for many, many years. And through that experience, the self-determination that she demonstrates not only for herself but for her children and her community is a great symbol of Black liberation — how she drew upon all her experiences to become a wonderful mother, community leader and wife, and ultimately helped her husband be released from prison. It's such a beautiful story of family and identity that I think is so special and one of the most important documentaries of our time.
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
It's a film that came out when I was a kid and that I loved. I love the idea of Black characters that are just themselves. For me, the liberation in that film is joy and youth. That film meant a lot to me as a young person, and that's how I saw Black liberation at that particular time in my life. It's always been a special film to me.
Directed by: Steve McQueen | Written by: John Ridley
12 Years a Slave is a direct translation, I think, of what Black liberation is. But the struggle that the main character has in that film is such an important story to tell, and one that I deeply connected with. And it's just beautiful storytelling, writing, acting. That film is really special to me, as well.
Directed by: Beyoncé
There's so much Black joy in Homecoming. I love the way the film beautifully connects the Black experience from the perspective of Historically Black Colleges and Beyoncé's own history with this beautiful cast of performers and dancers and music. It's something that makes me really happy, and that to me is Black liberation — the full expression of what it feels like to be Black. The musical manifestation of Black liberation is Homecoming.
Where to Watch: Netflix