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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Black History Month Entertainment Options: The Good, The Meh, The Ridiculous

Well while I was busy rewaging The Crusades and overdosing on politics, National Squeeze 400 Years of History into 28 Days Month snuck up on me----OH yes it is Black History month and its almost over seeing as how we only get 28 days...Oops, its a leap year, that means we get an extra 24 hours so maybe wee can sneak in one more documentary before its curtains on historical self reflection and introspection.

African American Lives 2. - My Review
Well the Grandaddy of them all is PBS. Every year they bring it for Black History Month and I appreciate it. Ever since I caught "Africans in America", I've always looked forward to their big week-long documentary. Last year Henry Louis Gates, Jr. did a fascinating documentary called African American Lives. This year he is back with African American Lives 2:

"African American Lives 2" takes on a new group made up of poet Maya Angelou, comedian Chris Rock, actors Don Cheadle and Morgan Freeman, singer Tina Turner, Olympic athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, theologian Peter Gomes, publisher Linda Johnson Rice and radio personality Tom Joyner.
Last year the suspense made it less like a historical documentary and more like a mystery series, you were hanging on to see what he was going to discover about Oprah Winfrey's family or Chris Tucker. So it was surprisingly riveting.

Well this year, Gates is back with African American Lives 2. It is still good stuff, but not as riveting as last year because A) there is entirely too much Gates this time around and B) there are too many celebrities to keep track of. Last year the individual stories kind of drove the series, the human emotion involved in discovering your roots was central. This year, there is no doubt that Gates is the star of the documentary. Its wonderful information, but after two hours of Gates speaking constantly he starts to grate. Also, the emotional drama from last year often times gets interrupted by Gates chiming in at inappropriate times with his college professor's voice. For example, when Tom Joyner finds out his grandmother fled South Carolina because his two great uncles were electrocuted by the state, that was powerful moment then WHAM Gates starts talking and sucks every ounce of emotion out of the moment as he tries to cram in some general historical facts about the condition of Black folks in general.

The neat thing about African American Lives, the first edition, is that through learning the individual stories of the ancestors of the celebrities, you DID learn about history in an interesting and engaging way. We were invested in the outcome. This year there are so many celebrities featured, it is hard to get invested in any one story, plus Gates adds a bunch of historical facts about post-Civil War life for Black folks in the south that aren't revelatory. I've heard it all before. What made AAL1 neat was that we'd never heard how individual families fit within the historical time line. So it is still good and I am going to watch all four hours, but it is not as good as last year. I think Gates needs to make a choice; either do a genealogy series or do a general African American history series, but don't combine the two. If you want to make it more compelling next year, have some Black folks try to dig this stuff up themselves. If you want to see some of the celebs featured on African American Lives 2, you can go to The Root, Skip Gate's new "Blog"( it ain't a blog no matter what they call it)- You can see some celeb videos and also get a primer on how to do your family genealogy yourself. I've done it and it is fun to see your great great great whatever's name on a census form. (Beginner's Guide to Tracing Your Roots)

For another take on the series, you can ready the NYTIMES.com review
Shout out to Coca Cola, AMBI Skin Care, Buick, and Johnson & Johnson, and PBS viewers who pay their membership dues for bringing me the highlight of Black History season.

Other BHM Entertainment Offerings
If you find any about African American women, let me know. I am still scouring. Next year I might have to shoot my own documentary about Black women.

Feb 25 – ABC airs a remake of “A Raisin in the Sun” starring Phylicia Rashad, Sean Combs, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan.

Feb. 10, Martin Luther King;
Feb. 17, The Legacy of Slavery;
Feb. 24, Do We Need Black History Month?(Apparently so if you have to ask)

Feb 16 - Racing for Time, at 8 p.m. -- Charles Dutton directed and stars as a Texas prison guard who created a track program for female prisoners.

This week's “The Can't Be Serious” award goes to VH1 who sent out a press release announcing that they were airing an extensive Black History month lineup.... Check out what VH1 thinks is Black History Programming (Your first sign of trouble is that they feature Akon as a historical figure)

Black Entertainment Television
I can't say anything bad about the lineup, especially BET J ( Y'all know I scoured the lineup, but for an ENTERTAINMENT channel, it is comparable with everyone else and BETTER than VH1.)

TV One


Sirius Satelite Radio's offerings

NBC Online
Over 500 Videos in an online learning center.

Master P has a special Black History Month Music Video... I can hardly wait.

The WWF Wants to celebrate black History Month too (Stacy Keibler/Playboy, WWE Celebrates Black History ) I remember the Junkyard Dog!!! We used to watch wrestling at my great grandmother's house on Saturday mornings.


Bringing in the rear, while PBS is the poor man's BHM destination, for those of you with premium cable, HBO does what it does best, documentaries, and brings us Joe Louis: America's Hero Betrayed. If you think Joe Lewis was betrayed, wait till you catch a doc about Jack Johnson.

IN my research I found this interesting bobble. “Black History Month, Martin Luther King, and Hypocritical Media!”. Apparently they aren't happy about Black History month and believe that some important facts have been left out:

Every February it gets wearisome to hear Blacks tell us over and over how Black explorers, inventors, scientists, athletes, preachers, etc., have been the saviors of, if not the world, at least the U.S. Now, I am the first to admit that more black achievement should have been in our textbooks and much should be made of their work; however, all that should be included in American History, not Black History. And Afrocentrism should be considered nonsense.

Um I thought the Canadians were supposed to be so progressive. I guess I need to tear up that application for Canadian citizenship.

While I joked about the compressed schedule of historical reflection, I think this whole "Should We Have Black History Month" --"They gave us the shortest month"---"Every Month Is Black History Month"discussion is silly. There is nothing wrong with taking time out each year to focus on learning more about something. It doesn't mean you can't learn something the other 11 months. It doesn't mean you aren't learning about other thing during February. How are you harmed by knowledge? I always learn something new Black History Month.

Feel free to add your BHM finds in the comments.