Mable Haddock, Black film trailblazer, dies at 74

Mable Haddock, the woman who supported independent Black filmmakers for four decades with the National Black Programming Consortium, died Saturday. She was 74.

Haddock died from kidney disease, which she had battled for some time, at a New York hospital, according to Black Public Media.

Haddock was one of eight people who founded the NBPC in 1979. It was renamed Black Public Media in 2018. For 25 years, Haddock was executive director of the organization, which fought to get more shows made for and produced by Black people on public and network television.

“My vision and my idea was always to share the achievements and contributions and beauty and talent and artistry of Black people with the world,” Haddock said in a 2015 interview. “To help to change the images that have been perpetuated about Black people through mass media.”

The NBPC provided support to hundreds of projects, including “Matters of Race,” “Unnatural Causes,” “Mandela,” “The Fannie Lou Hamer Story” and “The State of Black America.” In her 25 years in charge, Haddock led the grassroots organization in sending $6 million to Black filmmakers.

Haddock founded the NBPC in Columbus, Ohio, and later moved its headquarters to Harlem. During and after her time at the organization, Haddock wore many hats across the film and TV industry: writer at Dialogue magazine, panelist at the Ohio Arts Council and the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and director of the Firelight Media Documentary lab, among many others.

But Haddock wasn’t a glad-hander just looking for titles. In 1990, the NBPC gave its top documentary prize to “Tongues Untied,” an unabashed film about Black gay men. Haddock was stunned by the blowback, but she stood by the decision.

“I’ve been a woman all my life. And a Black all my life, but when people found out I was supporting this program — I thought I knew hate, I thought I knew sexism and racism, but the hate — you could just feel it,” she told author B.J. Bullert for his 1997 book “Public Television: Politics and the Battle Over Documentary Film.”

“Tongues Untied” eventually aired on PBS and sparked a national controversy.

Haddock’s work with the NBPC and across the TV and film industry led to numerous awards, including a New York Women in Film & Television Award and The Founders Awards from the Black Women’s Preservation Project, to name just two of dozens.

“As a Black woman, having the privilege to be mentored by someone like Mable — one of the smartest and boldest women in the documentary field at that time — was like hitting the jackpot,” current Black Public Media executive director Leslie Fields-Cruz said. “Mable exemplified what it meant to be authentically Black and female in a professional space. She wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power, both verbally and in her writings.”

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