Sean Combs. Whoopi Goldberg. Serena Williams. These are some of the familiar names you will recognize when The Black List opens Friday at the National Portrait Gallery featuring 50 of the most influential and successful living African America figures.
The Smithsonian exhibit is the first to feature all 50 portraits and will be open through April 2012. The 50 large-scale photographs that make up The Black List were from Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
Greenfield-Sanders told The Washingtonian that the list is to emphasize a sense of accomplishment that's so much bigger than an Oprah or an Obama.
Greenfield-Sanders, who is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, came up with the idea after a conversation with writer Toni Morrison.
I started to think about the people I knew who were extraordinary, Greenfield-Sanders told The Washingtonian. About an hour later he had 200 names scribbled on a napkin. He found that 10 percent of those were dead.
Still, Greenfield-Sanders had a starting point and the project began in 2006.
He initially had 25 portraits and a film of his subjects was shot with Elvis Mitchell. That film aired at Sundance and on HBO in 2008.
Greenfield-Sanders came up with the theme from the historical term, blacklist, which refers to a marginalized group. However, The Washington Post said Greenfield-Sanders wanted to turn the phrase into a roll call of distinction and show the broad range of achievements of African Americans.
The achievements of the likes of Colin Powell, Tyler Perry, RZA, Laurence Fishburne and lesser known people such as playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and urban environmentalist Majora Carter are recognized.
We knew we needed to have some celebrities, Greenfield-Sanders told The Washington Post. You sell it by having Fishburne and Chris Rock and the other people that draw them in, and then they learn something from these other people.