The life of Gordon Parks, a pioneering African American photographer and filmmaker, is the subject of a new HBO documentary. The New York Times said the 90-minute film, "A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks," could now be seen on HBO Max.

The Guardian recalled that Parks had been a freelancer working frequently for Vogue magazine before being hired as Life magazine's first African American staff photographer in 1948. He would work at that magazine for 20 years and his photos would draw praise for depicting the victims of racism and poverty with empathy and dignity, NPR said in a 2006 obituary for the photographer.

The Guardian said that the filming of the 1969 Warner Bros. film "The Learning Tree" had made Parks the first African American to produce and direct a movie for a major Hollywood studio. The newspaper added that he had gone on to direct the 1971 movie "Shaft," and compose the film's musical score.

On November 15, the day of the HBO documentary's premiere, Variety described the film, saying director John Maggio had alternated old clips of Parks speaking about photography with comments by cultural figures, such as Spike Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Poverty and Segregation in Kansas

A biography at the Gordon Parks Foundation website ( said that Parks had been born in a poor, segregated town in Kansas in 1912.

With a camera purchased from a pawnshop, he had taught himself photography, the biography said. It added that he had been employed as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration and, later, the Office of War Information. The foundation provided photos for HBO's documentary.

The New York Times noted that Parks had been the youngest of 15 children on his parents' farm.

The NPR obituary recalled him crediting his parents for having provided him with discipline, love and religion.

An invitation from Ingrid Bergman

Writing in Variety, Maggio discussed six of Parks' photographs which he had found especially impressive. One of them had subject matter completely unrelated to American racism. It was a 1949 photo of actress Ingrid Bergman on the island of Stromboli.

Maggio said that although her husband, film director Roberto Rossellini, had barred sensation-seeking photographers from the island, Bergman had invited Parks to the island. Her confidence in the photographer had been based on pictures he had taken of a Harlem criminal, Maggio said.

Romance with Gloria Vanderbilt

The Guardian noted that the documentary mentioned a 40-year-plus romance between the photographer and Gloria Vanderbilt. In the film, television journalist Anderson Cooper, Vanderbilt's son, recalled Parks spending weekends with the family in Long Island, the paper said. The film also showed Cooper saying that he would not have become a reporter "if it weren’t for Gordon Parks," the paper said.