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Washington University Film & Media Archive

William Miles Collection

miles_stacks (36K)
William Miles inspecting his collection
at the Film and Media Archive

Films by William Miles

About William Miles

William Miles was born in Harlem, New York, and has used his deep knowledge and experience of that borough to produce films that tell unique and often inspiring stories of Harlem's history. Based at Thirteen/WNET in New York City, William Miles produced many films dedicated to the African-American experience that have been broadcast nationwide.

Miles' interest in creating historical documentaries was nurtured through 25 years of restoring archival films and early feature classics for Killiam Shows, Inc. and the Walter Reade Organization in New York City. His best-known work, the four-part series I Remember Harlem (1981), is a comprehensive look at this famous borough's diverse history. Beginning in the 1600s and going up to the early 1980s, the film chronicles the changes in Harlem. The program's episodes include segments on Harlem's early history and settlement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression in Harlem, the Civil Rights Movement and political activism in the era of Malcolm X, and the problems and redevelopment of the '70s.

Miles' breakthrough film was Men of Bronze, which opened at the New York Film Festival in 1977 and was later broadcast on PBS. This film is the definitive story of the black American soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the "Harlem Hellfighters," who, because of segregation in the U.S. Army, fought under the French flag in World War I. The regiment spent more time in the front-line trenches that any other American unit, fighting alongside French, Moroccan, and Senegalese soldiers.

The Different Drummer: Blacks in the Military (1983) concentrated on African-American soldiers in recent decades. Miles's three-part program Black Champions (1986) dealt with African-American athletes and their role in the fight against discrimination. Important topics included the impressive performances of various black athletes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jackie Robinson's integration of Major League Baseball, Althea Gibson's achievements in tennis, and the careers of early black football stars.

One of the more intriguing portions of I Remember Harlem was interview footage of James Baldwin. Miles returned to the subject of that literary legend as one of the producers of James Baldwin: The Price of a Ticket, which debuted in 1989 as an episode of PBS's American Masters series. Black Stars in Orbit (1990), a documentary about African-Americans in the space program, was followed by Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II (1992), which Miles co-produced with Nina Rosenblum. The latter program continued Miles's focus on the experiences of black soldiers and centered on the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. The Black West, an episode of the TBS series, The Untold West, presented the story of African Americans in the U.S. west in the late nineteenth century.

Mr. Miles has won an Emmy Award, been nominated for an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame. He has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) for his outstanding contributions to the history of African Americans in the medium of film.