An alumna was inspired by a class assignment to make a documentary on the Young Lords. Now it’s being shown on The New York Times’ Op-Docs.

So much crystalized for Emma Francis-Snyder ’15 at Brooklyn College.

She was a child of the upper-middle-class haven of Westchester, New York, born into a politically engaged family, including a British mother who constantly decried the American health care system. Social justice issues always tugged at her, but she wasn’t sure where she fit in some of the movements that popped up around them.

She had gone to a community college, ended up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina building houses with Habitat for Humanity, traveled the country a bit, and then decided she was ready to go back to school in 2011.

Francis-Snyder landed at Brooklyn College when the Occupy Wall Street movement was picking up steam and students were protesting planned tuition increases and the New York City Police Department’s treatment of Muslims.

“I was having my own personal journey, having grown up in a very White suburb, being affected by these issues but not in the same direct way as some of the other students,” she says.

That’s when the CUNY Baccalaureate student, who was studying social documentation and documentary film, picked up a camera.

“I thought: Maybe this is how I can be of service,” she says, noting that her very first film was of a protest at Brooklyn College.

In an independent study course, she read about the Young Lords, a grassroots group of Latino and African-American activists who styled themselves after the Black Panthers and advocated for community control of public institutions. Francis-Snyder thought they were amazing.

“Brooklyn College was a moment in time for me when the intersectionality of all my education was coming into play. I was having an awakening and re-learning history,” she says. “I was delving into viewpoints on some of these groups and events that were radically different from the story I had been told in school. And I was blown away.”

In a course on documentary filmmaking, the former Rosen Fellow made her first attempt at covering the Young Lords’ takeover of Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx in summer 1970, an event that changed public health care and ended up procuring one of the first Patient’s Bill of Rights. The cast and crew were mostly Brooklyn College students.

“It wasn’t very good,” she says. “But I learned a lot.”

After graduation, she worked on a few documentaries and took a day job as an archivist for a production company. But the story about the Young Lords stuck with her. During her research, she had made inroads with some of the group’s leaders and always wanted the world to know how consequential their actions were.

“I think the Lincoln Hospital takeover was one of the most important events in U.S. history, but no one knows about it,” she says.

She toiled over whether she was the right person to tell the story and even offered it at one point to a Puerto Rican filmmaker who turned her down and encouraged her to pursue it.

“That was heartbreaking, but I thought it was the right thing to do,” she says, explaining that she thought the documentary might be better off in the hands of a person of color. “There was this weight of having to do a really good job.”

But she says she realized that though she had worked on some important projects, none were as meaningful to her as this one. So she gathered many of the same filmmaking friends who helped her on the first incarnation, shot much of the recreations on the Brooklyn College campus, and brought on board former Young Lords Iris Morales and Micky Melendez as consulting producers.

“It’s their story. Having them invested in the film was to my benefit as much as it was to theirs,” she says. “We can only get so far alone. That’s why I love filmmaking. It takes collaboration. I love working with other people to create art.”

While pitching the documentary, which she named “Takeover,” at the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2017, she caught the eye of influential filmmaker Tony Gerber and his wife, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Lynn Nottage. The couple co-founded a production company and wanted to help Francis-Snyder get her documentary done.

They introduced her to people who could help her secure funding and she received support from the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, and The Gotham.

Then things started to take off.

Takeover” premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, and in June, The New York Times reached out in a bid to purchase the production rights. It is now a part of the newspaper’s Op-Docs, a series of short documentaries by independent artists that it considers among “the best nonfiction filmmaking from around the world.”

“I couldn’t have dreamed of more,” says Francis-Snyder, whose next project will tell the personal story of her family’s struggle to serve as her father’s caretakers as his health declines. “I just knew that people deserved to know this story. That’s why I kept pushing.”