As protests against police brutality spread across Los Angeles and the nation this summer, filmmaker Tommy Oliver took his camera to snap photographs.

Now, Oliver’s photographs have caught the eye of the Smithsonian.

He joined LA Times Today to share the story behind those powerful images. 

What You Need To Know

  • Tommy Oliver's photographs have caught the eye of the Smithsonian National Museum

  • He hopes the photos will be a way to see the people who chose to stand up, and fight back against police brutality and systemic racism

  • Oliver is known in part for his Black Love docs-series on the Oprah Winfrey Network

  • His future projects include the upcoming HBO documentary 40 Years a Prisoner

Oliver attended six different protests in Los Angeles, and he shot a couple of hundred photos in each rally.

"For me, so much of it came down to the missing perspective. There were people out there shooting, but I believe it was for me the wrong reasons. We got to see the largeness of the protests, but not the people. We're in the middle of a pandemic. At the time, people were risking their lives to be at the protests. For me, it just came down to wanting to see those people, the individuals, the families, the friends, who chose to protest despite risks to their health," said Oliver.

The interactions Oliver had with people at protests taught him about power in the individual.

"One of the things I captured in Hollywood, at the massive protest, was 50,000 people strong, standing against police brutality. For me, it was an obvious indication that there are people who will do what it takes, even if it is potentially dangerous for them because where we are is not ok. It's not the certain place we should allow future generations and kids to have moving forward," added Oliver.

Oliver founded a company called Confluential Films that focuses on telling stories about people of color.

"For me, I wanted to make sure we could tell stories we were appropriately representing, and that is reflective of a world we're living in. It came down to being crafty creative, and not needing people to say yes or get permission, whether small or big. "Black Love," was a show that my wife and I just started shooting together. It was just about believing there was a place for the stories we wanted to tell and for the representation that we didn't see," said Oliver.

As a filmmaker, Oliver is deeply committed to maintaining his ownership rights regarding his content. 

"Ownership is incredibly important. It is something that we don't focus on enough, and people get excited about the idea of a fee. I want to build something that we could continue to build, continue to support people, and continue to support new artists. If all we are doing is making a fee out of something, we cannot do that. Beyond that, owning the show Black Love allowed us to branch out in so many ways. We have an upcoming summit — that will be our third annual one — we have We have a whole bunch of things that if we didn't owe the show, we wouldn't be able to do that," said Oliver.

Oliver's future projects are the upcoming HBO documentary 40 Years a Prisoner, which he directed and produced. The documentary focuses on the controversial 1978 police raids on the Philadelphia MOVE movement.

"Almost nobody remembers what happened in 1978. Nine people went to prison for the murder of one officer. There were nine people and one bullet. Many things happened, so many details were completely disregarded, and people just completely forgot about it. In many ways, it's a cautionary tale. The other part of the documentary focuses on the exploration of the scar tissue of those things. A kid was born in prison due to what happened and had never seen his parents outside of prison. His parents were one of the two arrested, and he spent his entire life fighting to get them out. We look at what happens the day of, but we forget about the fact that these things echo on for decades," added Oliver.