LE Newsletter -
EUR TV Series Review: African American Lives 2
www.eurweb.com - By Kam Williams
(February 1, 2008) *A year ago, Harvard Professor
Henry Louis “Skip” Gates
groundbreaking series on which he and eight other
African-American icons explored their roots via a combination of
genealogical and DNA research. The show was so successful, that
PBS has brought Skip back along with eleven new recruits curious
about their roots.
This go-round, the group of luminaries includes actors Don
Cheadle and Morgan Freeman, poet Maya Angelou, Olympian Jackie
Joyner-Kersee, DJ Tom Joyner, singer Tina Turner. Ebony/Jet
publisher Linda Johnson Rice, fellow Harvard Professor Reverend
Peter Gomes, comedian Chris Rock and belatedly-black author
Bliss Broyard. Plus, there’s Kathleen Henderson, the contest
winner picked from among over 2,000 entrants to have her history
researched for the program.
If you remember the original show, then you are already well
familiar with the format. Broken down into four episodes, the
first focuses on each person’s 20th Century relatives.
Episode Two traces Civil War era ancestors, while the third goes
all the way back to the Colonial Period. DNA testing is
introduced during the final episode, which is when the
participants learn what per cent African, Asian, European and
Native American they are. Some then venture to their respective
Highlights include Tom Joyner’s learning of the legal lynching
of two of his grandmother’s brothers for the murder of a white
man, the reading from a slave ship’s log about captives’ deaths
from sickness and suicide, and Ms.
Angelou’s heartfelt insights about her strong connection to the
Motherland, even in absentia when she wistfully reflects, “I
don’t think you can ever leave home.”
Ironically, the most compelling moments revolve around Ms.
Broyard, daughter of the late New York Times literary critic,
Anatole Broyard. For, her light-skinned father passed for white
from the time he moved to New York City in 1938 at the age of 17
until his death in 1990. So, growing up, she never knew she was
Here, she is clearly uncomfortable as she struggles to grasp the
meaning of her new identity, while wondering whether her father
ran from his out of self-hatred or self-preservation. There is
nothing culturally black about Bliss, making her inclusion a bit
strange, except that it reminds us that there are undoubtedly
millions of others like her, the difference being they are
either ashamed or unaware of their African ancestry.
The show’s only low moments come courtesy of host Gates who is
given to drawing baffling and bizarre conclusions such as when
he inappropriately sums up a situation with: “Being black in
America has never been about one’s color or facial features.
It’s more a state of mind.” What?
Or how about another occasion where he fliply suggests that the
damage slavery has wreaked upon the black family can be easily
undone, saying: “DNA can begin to reverse the Middle Passage.
Ain’t that something?” Otherwise, African American Lives 2 is as
moving, informative and fascinating four hours as you can hope
to find anywhere on the TV dial.