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Madeline Anderson, First Black Woman to Direct a Televised Documentary Film

Born in 1923 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Madeline Anderson loved her weekly visits to the movie theater but was upset that she never saw Black people she could relate to on the screen. When she graduated from high school in 1945, she entered Millersville State Teacher’s College, where she was the only Black student, but dropped out after one year having suffered constant harassment. After that, she worked in a factory for two years to raise enough money to move to New York, where she received a partial scholarship at NYU and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Anderson wanted to break into the film industry and got a job as a live-in babysitter for Richard Leacock, a British documentary filmmaker. This turned out to be a most productive move: Leacock offered her a job as a production manager at his company, Andover Productions, which was an excellent learning opportunity. She worked on science films for MIT and on a documentary series for NBC about Leonard Bernstein’s travels in Europe.

She left Andover in 1959 and found work freelancing as a script supervisor and assistant editor. It was extremely difficult to break into the industry. The all-too-familiar Catch-22 was that you couldn’t get a job unless you were a union member, but you couldn’t join the union until you got a job. The nepotism of the male-dominated unions forced her to take non-union jobs, eventually getting into the New York editors union after threatening to sue.

Anderson originally began filming what became Integration Report One in 1959 at a Brooklyn demonstration. This film about civil rights featured many influential icons of the movement, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young and Maya Angelou. After completing the film in 1960, she had trouble getting it distributed so she showed it at churches and colleges. The film was supposed to continue to include parts Two and Three, which would have documented the civil rights movement as it unfolded, but she couldn’t find the funding to do so. She did receive an accolade for the original film later when in 2015 the National Museum of African American History and Culture recognized it as the first documentary film directed by an African American woman.

She got a job at a PBS station as a staff editor for Black Journal, producing and directing A Tribute to Malcolm X in 1969. She also filmed I Am Somebody in 1970, making her the first Black woman to produce and direct a televised documentary. This film, about a strike by 400 Black women at the Medical College Hospital at the University of South Carolina, got no funding from TV networks but was ultimately funded by the union on strike.


From 1963 to 1968, she was an associate producer, writer and editor for NET, which later became WNET. In 1965, she became film editor, writer, and producer/director for the Emmy-winning Black Journal series. For the first year, she was the only Black woman on staff. At the Children’s Television Workshop from 1970 to 1975, she was an in-house producer/director and supervising film editor for Sesame Street and The Electric Company. She is the first Black woman to have produced and directed a syndicated TV series.

In 1975, Anderson formed her own production company, Onyx Productions. She made films for the New Jersey Board of Higher Education, as well as The Walls Came Tumbling Down, about a Missouri public housing project.

In 1978, she became the executive producer for The Infinity Factory on PBS and was the first Black woman producer to have a nationally broadcast series. She was a senior producer on the Arabic Literacy series Al Manahil in 1987.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture recognized her 1960 documentary Integration Report One as the First to Be Directed by an American Black Woman.


Madeline Anderson was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1992.

Her films remain relevant, airing at film festivals and colleges, and can be found online. In a career of “firsts”, Madeline fought for her dream of becoming a filmmaker, aiming to change the stereotypes she had seen in the movies of her youth, and breaking down barriers to help the dreamers who came behind her to succeed.