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David Montero

David Montero, Emmy-nominated documentary producer, an investigative journalist, and an author


1) What is your profession and what are the specific dimensions of your work?

I’m an investigative journalist and film producer. In my projects, I “follow the money” in the classic credo of investigative journalism. My work specifically “follows the money” within the profit and financing streams of enslavement. I show how deeply, and broadly, Northern bankers, corporate directors, and prominent families were involved in funding and profiting from Black people’s labor. This is an ongoing project to map, catalogue and hopefully digitize commercial sources of information showing how the North shaped slavery as a business, and how the business of slavery shaped the riches, power, and privilege of the North.

2) How did you come to this type of career?

I came to be a journalist because I believed in the healing power of writing to illuminate new perspectives, and because I was interested in exploring cultures in different parts of the world.

3) Tell us something about your process of study and formal and/or informal education and the nature of your degrees and/or training. When, where, and how did you become educated and qualified to do what you do?

I received a BA with honors in History at Wesleyan University, focusing on the history of the Islamic world. That shaped my initial foray into journalism. I then pursued my career, and honed my skills, at first through internships, namely at The Nation magazine, and later at The Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco. I worked as a web producer for PBS FRONTLINE/World before moving overseas to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to work as a freelance foreign correspondent. From there I was hired by The Christian Science Monitor as their Pakistan correspondent, relocating to Islamabad. Not long afterward, I began producing documentary films from Pakistan for PBS FRONTLINE. My reporting on corruption in the region shaped the ideas for my first book, KICKBACK (2018), which traces the devastating impact of Western corporate corruption in countries like Bangladesh.

4) What were the greatest obstacles that you had to overcome to achieve the success that you now experience? What challenges have your experienced and how have you overcome them? What goals do you have left to accomplish?

No one in my family had ever pursued a career in writing and journalism. My father’s family were immigrants from Costa Rica. My mother’s family were working class people. There was no blueprint of any sort for me to follow. It was a leap of faith. Likewise, establishing myself as a journalist in a foreign context, far from home, was tremendously challenging. I overcame the challenges by jumping first, putting myself headlong in complex situations, and figuring it out along the way. As a younger journalist, you constantly face the anxiety of: how am I going to report this story? But I learned to start small: make the first phone call, or just show up to the spot you need to go to. The answers will fall into place. It taught me both personal resilience and the beauty of relying on others for support and guidance.

5) Did you have any role models or mentors either in your domains of entrepreneurship, work, research, and creation or outside of them? Who were they and how were they instrumental in shaping you as a person and as a professional?

Two of my mentors were Sharon Tiller, then an executive producer at FRONTLINE/World, and Lowell Bergman, a legendary investigative journalist. From Lowell, I learned the grit and perseverance required for investigative work. From Sharon, I learned the mechanics and art of storytelling through film, the magic of spacing and timing, the marvelous uses of sound. Together they gave me the confidence to pursue a hard story halfway around the world, knowing it could be made into a compelling narrative when the pieces were artfully assembled.

6) What does your daily work routine look like? Where is your place of business/production and how do you stay focused and productive?

In my daily routine, I read every morning before all else, ten minutes at least, but often half an hour. To focus the mind, to inspire the flow of words. Sometimes it’s a biography of Shakespeare, or Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or poems by Borges. If I’m writing a book, I then write from 10:00am to 2pm. Editing and research after a lunch break. I write six and sometimes seven days a week. Reading keeps me focused. Showing up every day maintains my productivity.  I “commute” up a flight of stairs to my office.

7) What are your guiding principles? What informs how you do your work and how you engage with your co-workers, clients, customers, or consumers?

Empathy guides my work and my interactions (at least, I try; like anyone, I’m not perfect!). Centering other people is intrinsically interesting to me. I love to hear other people’s stories.  My guiding principle is: when you get out of the way, the magic happens. Staring at a blank page? Don’t fret about how you are going to fill it up. Get out of the way, and the writing, or the idea, will flow through you, not because of you


8) What are you working on now and when and how will it be shared?

I’m working with a former colleague to launch a documentary film based on my book, The Stolen Wealth of Slavery. We are exploring ways to use the historical material, and the connections between modern day corporations and their hidden history in enslavement, to tell a narrative through film. Details TBD.


9) What are you proudest of in your career?

In my career, I’m proudest of the book I just published, The Stolen Wealth of Slavery: A Case for Reparations (2024). I think it provides a unique and necessary lens on how modern-day corporations only became what they are today because of enslavement, and why it is the destiny of our country to repair this wound.


10) What are you proudest of in your life?

The thing I’m proudest of in my life is that I forged a path based on my creative impulses, and that I met my wife on that path.


11) What fiction or non-fiction book should be essential reading? 

A work of essential reading for me is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, (New York: Vintage).


12) What TV show or film should be essential viewing?

In my opinion, In the Mood for Love (2000) by Wong Kar-wai, should be essential viewing.


13) How do you relax and take care of yourself?

I relax and take care of myself through reading, cooking, going to the gym, walking, time in nature, painting, travel, and lots of art.


14) What’s next?

Archival work to further document how Northern families, merchants, bankers, and corporate directors played a pivotal role in institutionalizing enslavement as a business – and how the profits from Southern slavery actually enriched the North.


David Montero is an Emmy-nominated documentary producer, an investigative journalist, and an author. He was formerly a foreign correspondent, in South and Southeast Asia, for The Christian Science Monitor and PBS FRONTLINE, where he covered politics, culture, corruption, and the reemergence of the Taliban. He reported from several countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. His film, “State of Emergency,” about the Taliban’s violent takeover of a peaceful valley in Northwestern Pakistan, was nominated for an Emmy. The film was also awarded the South Asian Journalist Association’s Daniel Pearl Award. He is a recipient of The Alicia Patterson Fellowship, the Investigative Reporting Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, Johns’ Hopkins’ International Reporting Fellowship, and several grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. His first book was Kickback: Exposing the Global Corporate Bribery Network (Viking/Penguin, 2018). More recently, his work traces how Northern corporations played a central role in financing Black people’s enslavement, and how the profits from that reviled system enriched the North and Wall Street.




Learn More…

The Stolen Wealth of Slavery: A Case for Reparations, with a foreword by Michael Eric Dyson. (New York: Legacy Lit/Hachette books, February 6, 2024).