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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.

Reader Comments (11)

I am looking forward to the "A Raisin in the Sun" remake. It would have been a good move to air the original also.

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter2Unruly

Not on tv but still falls in the entertainment category:

Smooth Magazine came out with their BHM magazine and on the cover is Trina and her big naked butt. Right by her butt is says "The Great Black Hope" (talking about Obama). Smh like they can't talk about BHM with out selling sex first.

View it below:


February 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeidra

I try to learn about black history all year long. Also, we should focus on African history also so people won't think our history began with slavery. I saw one of
VH1'S attempts to celebrate black history month and it was a mess. The show was basically about white entertainers who should get a "ghetto pass" because of they "act black", whatever that means. It was so stupid and only reinforced negative stereotypes.

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertasha212

Make sure you watch The Marva Collins story on TV One, it has one the greats Cicely Tyson starring and its about how one black woman took the initiative to open her own school when she saw children failing in public school

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNaima

Excellent Post. Thank you for the breakdown of all of the programming good and bad that will be shown during "Our month". However, like you said I always learn something during this month.

Actually I think that we should call it Black History second, minute, hour, day, month, year. I know its a mouthful but if we say it enough we can help to emphasize that our history is All of the time, Past,Present and Future.

Oh and following up from what naima said, Walmart has some excellent Black Movies at very good prices. Movies like The Josephine Baker Story, Ruby Bridges, The Tuskegee Airmen and Buffalo Soldiers.

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermrshadow33

I looked into VH1'S schedule and the only series worth seeing is the Say It Loud! I remember when it came out and it is very good.

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermrshadow33

I saw the special African-American lives. It was absolutely awesome! I loved the idea of using assessible documents (census documents, wills, etc.) to trace one's family origin. I like that Gates traced the history of a "regular" black family. With my family reunion approaching, I am very much so interested in tracing my roots.

Does anyone know of private companies that specialize in assisting people with tracing their roots?

Also, thanks for the Black history month television lineup.

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertryexcellence

...Longtime lurker coming out of the shadows here...

"Does anyone know of private companies that specialize in assisting people with tracing their roots?"

Tryexcellence: Last year I purchased a DNA kit from the company African Ancestry (www.africanancestry.com) to trace my maternal DNA line. When you receive your results, the company provides you with a good amount of information regarding the area of the continent about the general location of where most likely your family comes from. By the way, if you want to learn about your more about your paternal DNA, one of the men in your family will have to submit a DNA test kit.

There are many other DNA companies out there but African Ancestry was started in part by a young scientist from Howard University, which peaked my interest.


February 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPanaLady

Thanks Panalady for the info! I've been to the africanancestry website and I'm so excited about discovering the country and/or area from which my family came.

This information will be shared at the family reunion.


February 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertryexcellence

I watched African American Lives tonight. I loved the show. Like Henry Gates I am obsessed with family trees. While growing up I always talked to my Mom about her upbringing but for some reason I never had those same conversations with my Grandmother. As much as my Grandmother loved to talk she never really discussed her past. She was one of 16 so I'm sure she had a million stories. Her younger siblings really don't remember very much about their grandparents etc.

I didn't have a problem with the black history moments thrown into the show but I do wish they would have focused on 3 or 4 people per show rather than introducing every family story in one night. I wanted to shed a tear along with Chris Rock. He seemed so overwhelmed by the info he was given. The sad thing about myself is that I live in DC and have gotten off the metro at the very place the Civil War memorial is located. I've never taken time to look at the names and honor those that fought for our freedom.

February 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercocoa kitty

My friend and I both found the Coca Cola black history commercial aired during African American Lives on PBS to be completely racist. I've been trying to find it online for discussion purposes. Basically black achievements included running, cooking, and being stylish

February 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLaDonna

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