Eyes on the Prize is a 14-hour documentary series about the African-American Civil Rights Movement. The series uses archival footage to record the growth of the civil rights movement in the United States, with special focus on the ordinary people who affected the change. It was created and executive-produced by Henry Hampton at Blackside, Inc.
The series has been hailed as more than just a historical document. Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University history professor and editor of the published papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., remarked that "it is the principal film account of the most important American social justice movement of the 20th century". Because of its extensive use of primary sources and in-depth coverage of the material, it has been adopted as a key reference and record of the civil rights movement.
It has also seen extensive use in schools and other educational settings as a way to convey the experiences and history of that period in the struggle for civil rights.
The title of the series is derived from the song "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize", which is used in each episode as the opening theme music.
By the mid-1990s, the series was unavailable on video or broadcast television, due to limits on the licenses of the copyrights of the archival footage used. Grants from the Ford Foundation and others enabled Blackside to renew rights. To date, PBS has rebroadcast the first six hours on three consecutive Mondays in October 2006, and has begun rebroadcasting the second eight hours in February 2008.
PBS reissued an educational version of the series in the fall of 2006, making it available on DVD for the first time. It is now available to educational institutions and libraries from PBS on seven DVDs (ISBN 0-7936-9262-8) or seven VHS tapes. These versions are not licensed for individual consumer sales. It is unclear whether any of the footage has been changed to appease rights holders.
The book of the same title by journalist Juan Williams and the staff at Blackside (hardcover ISBN 0-670-81412-1, paperback ISBN 0-245-54668-5) was created as a companion volume to the series; it was published by Viking in 1987.
Independent of the producers, the organization Downhill Battle initiated the "Eyes on the Screen" project, along with civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot, in January of 2005 to encourage the use of file sharing networks such as BitTorrent to distribute the film - without regard for copyright restrictions. They also called for people to display the film, particularly on February 8, during Black History Month.
Others took exception to Downhill's use of the series as a tool in the cause of challenging existing copyright law. Some affiliated with the production of the series (particularly producer Henry Hampton's family) have objected that a series about the civil rights movement had now been repositioned as an icon of the copyright reform movement. They pointed out that widespread distribution of illegal copies would make investors and donors less interested in funding a public re-release.
As a result, soon after their campaign began, Downhill Battle removed their BitTorrent links and issued a statement asking that all digital and illegal copies of the series be destroyed. They expressed the hope "that our efforts have not interfered with Blackside's efforts" to bring back the series to the public. The campaign instead began to emphasize the promotion of public screening of the series in each state.
Meanwhile, the Eyes on the Screen campaign had been endorsed by groups such as the Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, who wrote: "Therefore, in the spirit of the Southern Freedom Movement, we who once defied the laws and customs that denied people of color their human rights and dignity, we whose faces are seen in "Eyes on the Prize," we who helped produce it, tonight defy the media giants who have buried our story in their vaults by publicly sharing episodes of this forbidden knowledge with all who wish to see it.
Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965–1985