First, there was “The Black List,” then “The Latino List” and “The Out List.” Then there came “The Boomer List.” Now, director and producer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is coming out with a new documentary, ”The Women’s List.”
The concepts for these films grew out of Greenfield-Sanders’ work as a photographer known for his strikingly intimate portraits of major cultural figures and world leaders, which can be seen in venues including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. All 50 of his portraits from “The Black List” series of photographs are displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
Unlike the many books he has published, which also include “The Latino List” and “Movie Stars,” and to which pages can be added, television has a defined time frame in which to fit his subjects.
For “The Women’s List,” he got 60 minutes on THIRTEEN’s “American Masters” series in which to include 15 women who exemplify contemporary American culture.
Viewers will hear from familiar names in the industry including Alicia Keys, Edie Falco, Shonda Rhimes, Margaret Cho, Rosie Perez and Wendy Williams.
They are featured alongside pilot Nia Wardlaw, fashion designer Betsey Johnson, athlete and model Aimee Mullins, scientist Elizabeth Holmes, artist Laurie Anderson, entrepreneur Sara Blakely, attorney Gloria Allred, U.S. House of Representatives minority leader and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
“They’re all inspiring. That’s an important part of it. They’ve all struggled in different ways,” said Greenfield-Sanders. “How one gets to be a Madeleine Albright, or rises to be Edie Falco, that journey is always remarkable. All these women own their power in distinct ways.”
Greenfield-Sanders says some of the most interesting elements to him from the stories they tell are the generational changes.
“Albright grew up in an era where her husband had to be the important one. And then you go all the way to Shonda Rhimes, who grew up understanding from her parents that there were no limits, and that message was particularly powerful. Her story as a single mother is pretty remarkable and exciting. These are all remarkable women.”
The documentary begins with an introduction from another remarkable woman, Toni Morrison. “Society is better for our peaceful invasion,” the author says about women’s accomplishments in fields including art, finance, law, science and entrepreneurship. “We are no longer pioneers,” she notes.
Morrison has been friends with Greenfield-Sanders for 35 years and he asked her to write an opening statement, almost like a book has a foreword.
He credits her with the original concept for his “List” series, both as books and as documentaries, from a time in 2006 when he was doing a portrait of her.
The concept for “The Women’s List” began in 2008, when Hillary Clinton — as she is currently — was running for president.
“I started thinking about how she was attacked, and the way people were reacting to her,” he recalled. “I saw a lot of silent sexism, and that’s when I began pushing this idea forward.”
As with “The Black List” and “The Latino List,” Greenfield-Sanders is hoping for additional volumes to add to the women’s canon, because any way you cut it, it’s tough to fit 15 inspirational stories into one hour.
(“The Women’s List” premieres Friday, Sept. 25, on PBS. Check local listings.)