Responses by Laurie Howell, group creative director and Stacy-Ann Ellis, copywriter, Droga5
Background: The purpose of this project was to continue The Truth Is Worth It campaign we’ve been building—a campaign that shows why the New York Times is worth paying for because of the times in which we live. We wanted to create something that would not only honor the project’s intentions but also would reinforce the New York Times’s commitment to proving the value of journalism in all its forms—how it can be so much more than the latest headlines and breaking news. The 1619 Project is a perfect example of the important journalism that many readers don’t necessarily consider when they think about news.
Reasoning: At the start of the 1619 podcast, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator and architect of the project, visits Point Comfort, Virginia, the area where the first documented enslaved people from Africa arrived in what would become the United States. She asks a pivotal question: “What happened here?” That question led the creative. In our fifty-second film, we answered her question by having a person who embodies the modern day Black success story recite a 1619 Project excerpt from the same place that inspired it.
Challenges: Holding onto the simplicity of the work and the execution by using the power of words. We played with other elements in production, but that simplicity became the choice, and sticking with it was the challenge. Also, we recognized that the 1619 Project is a series of articles that were reported with great care and intention, and we wanted to approach the film with the same level of tact. However, we had to strike a balance between emphasizing the weight of such controversial subject matter—the complicated legacy of slavery in America—and remaining objective in our creative approach, not projecting our own beliefs and personal sensitivities onto the work.
Favorite details: The most rewarding moment comes at the end. We’re pleased with how, after we take in the gravity of the words and hear a flurry of sounds depicting the America we thought we understood, we settle into a sense of stillness over the water, taking in this hard truth. Cinematically, it’s such a beautiful moment.
Visual influences: Upon reading the 1619 Project, we were immediate fans of its art direction. It used beautiful tones and imagery, especially with the magazine’s cover portrait of the waters around Point Comfort. We wanted to maintain that simplicity and lean into it further with our film.
Anything new: During the research process, we found ourselves in the same shoes as many new 1619 Project readers and listeners. In going through all the essays and podcasts, we learned about key details that were excluded from most of our history classes.