Winner, Individual 2021

Sam Pollard

Sam Pollard, winner of this year’s Peabody Career Achievement Award, is a pre-eminent chronicler of the American experience and, in particular, the African American experience in all its complexity, injustice, aspiration, and joy.

A renowned editor, director and producer across film and television, Pollard’s remarkable work critically conveys the historical reach of anti-Blackness, racial injustice and the enduring power of black freedom struggles. With tremendous insight and sensitivity, he mines the rich archives of African American life and culture portraying indomitable stories of struggle and determination. In the process he elevates the ordinary, stresses the pleasures, care, and compassion of Black people and ultimately serves as our guide to the power of Black freedom dreams.

Pollard made his directorial debut on Eyes on the Prize II, the landmark documentary series recounting the struggles and achievements of the civil rights movement. As a director he has explored the lives of cultural icons including August Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Zora Neale Hurston, Ellis Haizlip, John Wayne, and John Ford. His enthralling portrait Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me is a rich examination of Davis’ journey through an especially tumultuous period of American history. In 2019 Pollard co-directed the six-part series Why We Hate. His most recent directorial work includes the 2020 Peabody Award nominee, Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children from HBO, and the feature documentary film MLK/FBI, described by The New York Times as “an exemplary historical documentary — unafraid of moral judgment but also attentive to the fine grain of ambiguity that clings to the facts.”

Pollard is equally as well-known and well-respected as an editor and producer. His frequent collaborations with Spike Lee include the Academy Award-nominated documentary Four Little Girls about the 1963 Birmingham church bombings, and When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, a four-part documentary film that won numerous awards, including a Peabody Award and three Emmys. Between 1990 and 2010, Pollard edited a number of Lee’s films: Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Girl 6, Clockers, and Bamboozled. In 2010 he co-produced and supervised the edit on Lee’s If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise.

As an editor Pollard has few peers with a wide-ranging body of work including Style Wars (1983), Chisholm ‘72: Unbought and Unbossed (2004), Joe Papp in Five Acts (2010), Venus and Serena (2012), and Sinatra: All or Nothing At All (2015), amongst countless other films.

In addition to his continuing work in media, television and film, Pollard is a Professor at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. His mentorship and teaching of a new generation of documentary storytellers continues his impact in the field and in the world.

With his indomitable energy and insatiable curiosity, his generosity as a colleague, mentor, collaborator, his acute sensitivity to the complex modalities of black life and his undying commitment to social justice, Pollard is a virtuoso who continues to identify, document, curate and shape some of the most important and enduring stories that matter. For all of this, the Peabody Board of Jurors is proud to honor Sam Pollard with this year’s Career Achievement Award.