This afternoon this New Hampshire PBS station is airing ‘Unforgivable Blackness,’ the story of Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight champion. This is not a new one documentary, but one of the many offerings of Ken Burns. I reflected on the fact that this is Black history month and that the stations that one would expect to pay attention to that, (PBS, History Channel) are barely recognizing it. I gave up on broadcast network tv and its PREs (Perfunctory Racism Episodes). PBS scored well in my opinion with its broadcast and rebroadcast of the Henry Louis Gates’ series ‘African American Lives.’ The Independent Lens series is usually the refuge for people of color to tell the stories that apparently that apparently find no home anywhere else.
What I hate about Black History Month and recent programming is that it seems that we are stuck in this time rut where we can’t get beyond stories of the Civil Rights Movement, Slavery at about the time of Civil War or some story that features a Great White Hope that labours on behalf of saving the dark people.
I mentioned this before about there are so many stories where Black people lead lives similar to and in many ways, just like their white counterparts. Part of what made ‘African American Lives’ so interesting was to find out facts like that Oprah’s desire to open a school is actually in her blood since several family members were engaged in education. To learn facts not much discussed such as the fact that actor Don Cheadle could honestly say that his ancestors were not owned by white slavemasters but by American Indian or Native American slavemasters. I don’t understand why none of the movies that air on WGBH 44 for this month are not movies with a Black focus. Where is ‘Sounder,’ ‘Nothing But A Man,’ ‘Cleopatra Jones,’ ‘Cooley High,’ ‘Malcom X’ or ‘Daughters of the Dust’? While I was pleased to see the rarely aired ‘A Thousand Clowns’ on February 14th, I would have rather the movie that aired before it was something like ‘Daughters of the Dust,’ and not the umpteenth airing of ‘Singin in the Rain.’ How about more recent offerings such as Jason’s Lyric or Rollbounce?
I am often left with the feeling that the NH PBS station does a better job at more interesting programming that the Boston stations, which admittedly produces more content. I have to say that they did do a good job with programming on their cable station, WGBH World, which offered some interesting episodes of ‘History Detectives,’ that included authenticating the saddle of Bill Picket, a Black bulldogger and ranch hand that is little known outside of Western history.
And of course, Basic Black hits it out of the park 365 days a year, which such awesome guest as Tavis Smiley, Cornel West, Annette Gordon-Reed and Deborah Willis.
I still can’t help but wonder why if PBS believes in diversity, that it’s programming does not reflect it. I love much of what they have. I wish they would work harder at sharing programming that can and does appeal to everyone, even if the faces are largely not white, older and well to do.