A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks explores the enduring legacy of photographer, writer, composer, activist and filmmaker, Gordon Parks, and spotlights his visionary work and its impact on the next generation of artists. The film debuted Monday November 15, 2021 on HBO and HBO Max, commemorating Gordon Parks birthday.
The film showcases contemporary photographers and filmmakers who take their inspiration from Parks’s oeuvre and philosophies as they use their cameras to confront systemic racism and inequalities while lifting up and celebrating their subjects. Directed by John Maggio, the feature documentary is executive produced by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Alicia Keys.
The life and work of Gordon Parks remains strikingly relevant and salient in today’s challenging times. A Choice of Weapons explores the power of images in storytelling and advancing racial, economic and social equality through the lens of three contemporary photographers who consider Parks’s vision in the context of their own work. Devin Allen whose photograph “Baltimore Uprising” of the Freddie Gray protests was featured on the cover of Time Magazine; LaToya Ruby Frazier who for five years followed the Flint, Michigan water crisis and most recently photographed Breonna Taylor’s family for Vanity Fair; and Jamel Shabazz who uses his camera as a tool to document his community and those around him to ensure that they feel seen.
Other interviewees reflecting on Parks’s lasting impact include: Jelani Cobb, staff writer The New Yorker; journalist and friend of Parks, Anderson Cooper; filmmaker Ava DuVernay; writer and filmmaker Nelson George; writer and activist Kareem Abdul Jabbar; filmmaker Spike Lee; Khalil Muhammad, historian and professor at Harvard Kennedy School; Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; actor Richard Roundtree; Michal Raz-Russo, former associate curator, The Art Institute of Chicago; and Darren Walker, president Ford Foundation.
A Choice of Weapons also features a compelling overview of the Black American experience as told through Parks’s own work and traces America’s Civil Rights movement as portrayed through his lens. From his prolific, photographic series of everyday Black Americans, his decades of magazine work, to composing music, writing memoirs and novels, to directing “Shaft” in 1971, Parks was a multifaceted trailblazer: he was the first Black staff photographer at Life magazine and the first Black American to direct a major studio film. He wielded his camera as his weapon, disrupting conventional ideas of what it meant to be an American and fighting for social justice. First and foremost, he uniquely understood the privilege of being allowed into his subjects’ lives, spending time observing and getting to know them before capturing their humanity on film.
A Choice of Weapons pays homage to a true American legend whose work, by its beauty and import, stands at the pinnacle of socio-historical documentation of the 20th century while also serving as an empowering springboard for contemporary and future artists.
HBO Documentary Films’ presents A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks directed and produced by John Maggio; executive produced by Alicia Keys, Jelani Cobb, Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, Jacqueline Glover, Peter W. Kunhardt Jr., Peter Kunhardt; produced by Monica Berra, George Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt, Matthew Henderson. For HBO: senior producer, Sara Rodriguez; executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.