Get to Know Leslie Fields-Cruz, Executive Director of Black Public Media

Leslie Fields-Cruz Black Public Media
"BIPOC communities are indelibly intertwined in the American experience. If more of these stories are made and shared with the American public, then we can help to dispel the divisive rhetoric that seeks to keep us apart."

CAAM is one of five minority communications organizations that make up the National Multicultural Alliance (NMCA), whose goal is to promote authentic and diverse programming for public broadcast. Black Public Media (BPM) is another member of this consortium. In July, we chatted with BPM’s Executive Director Leslie Fields-Cruz so our community can learn more about our media partners.       

With the current Black Lives Matter demonstrations and discussions going on around the nation, how can public media play an even greater role in helping people to understand the context and history of today’s events? 

Leslie Fields-Cruz: By tapping into the existing catalogs of Black Public Media, ITVS, POV, American Masters, America Reframed, American Experience, and BPM’s very own AfroPoP, public media has an incredible opportunity to use its platforms to inform and educate the public about the current social context which has ignited widespread Black Lives Matter protests. I list all of these series because the selection of programs should not be limited to stories about social injustice or mass incarceration. To begin to understand the context of the #BLM movement, one must take a deep dive into the complex and diverse stories about Black life and culture. Public media has an opportunity, and perhaps even a duty, to ensure the American public has access to stories that can help contextualize this very moment. 

But that’s not all public media can do. It can invest in future stories about the Black experience as well as other experiences Of POC. It can further diversify its staffing at PBS stations to make sure it is truly reflective of the diversity of the American public. 

As BPM and CAAM both have similar missions of supporting media that is focused around diverse communities. But neither of our demographics exists in a vacuum; we both live in a country that is becoming increasingly diverse—and often increasingly divided. What kind of nuanced, intersectional stories would you like to see?

LFC: I know from experience that Black people’s relationships with other POC are broader and more nuanced than what has been represented in mainstream media. So when I come across stories like The First Rainbow Coalition, Upaj Improvise, A Lot Like Like You, or series such as On My Block that center the intersectionality of BIPOC relationships, I crave more. How about a feature film on the brief friendship between Yuri Kochiyama and Malcolm X, or a documentary that explores the complexity of the Black and Arab Muslim American relationships. I was listening to NPR’s Code Switch podcast just recently and learned Filipino migrants initiated one of the first strikes that led to the Farmworkers movement, a movement widely associated with the Chicano experience. Well, let’s dig into that intersectional story!! BIPOC communities are indelibly intertwined in the American experience. If more of these stories are made and shared with the American public, then we can help to dispel the divisive rhetoric that seeks to keep us apart. 

How can CAAM, as part of the National Multicultural Alliance (NMCA), better support Black stories?

LFC: CAAM and BPM can do a better job supporting each other’s stories by promoting them across our social media platforms, encouraging viewers from our respective communities to tune and watch stories about our experiences. We should encourage Black and Asian American investors and those who support indie and doc films by way of crowdfunding campaigns to support Black and Asian American producers who are developing stories centering our respective communities. 

Can you share some recommended Black documentary or narrative films for CAAM’s audiences to stream?

LFC: AHH that’s not fair. There’s too much to recommend. But since you’re making me choose…  Tune into: I am Not Your Negro (PBS& Amazon), The First Rainbow Coalition (PBS), AfroPoP series (PBS), Black Folk Don’t web series (YouTube), PoPs: Black Fatherhood web series (YouTube), 180 Days series (PBS), Whose Streets (Hulu), Watchmen series (HBO)…I could go on, but you can also visit our website, blackpublicmedia.org, and like us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more recommendations. 

Like CAAM, BPM is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Looking back, what are the achievements you are most proud of?

LFC: There are so many things I’m proud of it’s hard to name just one thing. But if I have to, I think what I’m most proud of is BPM’s support of Black content creators at the start of their careers. Whether it’s through funding a career defining project, or providing professional development support, when BPM helps to propel a maker to the next level of their career, or bring an untold story to the American consciousness, then we’ve done our part to bring Black voices and Black stories to the forefront. Furthermore, makers who establish their own training programs (i.e. Stanley Nelson, Firelight Media) or mentor multitudes of the next gen BIPOC makers (Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster, Rada Films) are helping to spread the seeds we planted. What more could a 40-year-old organization ask for? 

Looking to the future, what do you hope will come out of this moment in time as we move forward?

LFC: History has taught us that the seeds of a movement take a while to bear fruit. However, my sincere hope is that we don’t slide back into complacency before the hard work is done. 

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