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Marco Williams elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Reflecting concerns about diversity, “I alone can’t change it,” Williams says

Marco Williams
Marco Williams

Award-winning documentary filmmaker and Northwestern University professor Marco Williams has been elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, best known for its annual Academy Awards, the Oscars. 

“I hope to enhance the diversity of the types of films considered [for the Academy Awards] as well as the types of makers who create these important works,” said Marco Williams, who holds a joint appointment as professor of communication at Northwestern University in Qatar as well as at the School of Communication on the University’s campus in Evanston, Illinois.

Williams hopes to draw attention to works often ignored by the Academy. “By this I mean films that have been overlooked because they don’t fit a certain mainstream category,” said Williams.

“I think including more diverse voices is a corrective step. There seems to be an effort to rectify the past and reflect the present.”

Williams has previously held a Guggenheim Fellowship and earned a George Foster Peabody Award and a Columbia-DuPont Award, all high honors, for his documentary films. 

His most recent documentary, Tell them We Are Rising (2017), recounted the rich story of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). It premiered earlier this year on PBS Independent Lens.

Williams’ films and awards include an Emmy for his investigative documentary, Freedom Summer (2006), while his Two Towns of Jasper (2002) won numerous awards, including the 2004 George Foster Peabody Award, the 2004 Alfred I. DuPont Silver Baton, the 2002 Pan African Film Festival Outstanding Documentary Award and the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival Silver Award for Best International Documentary. Additionally, Williams’ film, In Search of Our Fathers (1991), was awarded The Silver Apple at the National Educational Film and Video Festival and was broadcast on PBS Frontline.

“Professor Williams’ election is a well-deserved recognition for a renowned professional known for his work as a documentary film artist, mentor and master teacher. He has done important and pathfinding documentaries and this is the latest of his many honors and awards he has received,” said Everette E. Dennis, Dean of Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q).

In his selection for this exclusive membership, Williams was nominated by two members of the documentary branch. The Academy also recognizes individuals based on their contributions to the field through the academia. As a member of the documentary branch, Williams acknowledges that his latest honor is both a signal recognition and an obligation to be among the judges who narrow down the films viewed into a list of 10 documentary shorts and 15 documentary features.  

At NU-Q, Williams teaches courses in film directing and the foundations of screenwriting. Before joining NU-Q, he taught at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. 

Williams received his BA from Harvard University in visual and environmental studies and he also earned a Master of Arts in Afro-American studies and a Master of Fine Arts in the Producers Program, both from UCLA. 

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