Henry Louis Gates wants his new PBS doc to salute Black joy

A black and white photo portrait of a man with a shaved head, glasses and a goatee.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. photographed at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center

(Philip Keith / For the Times)

Anyone who has heard the R&B classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” knows that the song is about a lover who gets news of his cheating partner through whispered conversations and gossip.

But renowned scholar and television host Henry Louis Gates Jr. (“Finding Your Roots”) is ready to put a different spin on the phrase and shine a spotlight on the social, religious, and intellectual networks through which Black people fostered a thriving Black culture have significant odds.

“Black Americans have created a world beyond the color line with grace, ingenuity and imagination,” Gates proclaims at the start of his documentary series Making Black America: Through the Grapevine, which premieres Tuesday on PBS. Gates adds that it’s a world “with its own values ​​and rules” and that this cultural vine is “as old as the American Revolution.”

The four-part project explores the founding of the Prince Hall Masons in 1775, examines the beginnings of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and moves to contemporary views of the Black Lives Matter movement and Black Twitter. Gates said the institutions were created not only for survival but also for the free expression of black love and joy.

The series is the latest documentary Gates has produced for PBS; others include last year’s “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” which explores different layers of African-American history.

Gates said this project is designed to reach black and non-black viewers alike: “It’s a clarion call to young black people, to remind them that they come from a noble tradition of culture bearers and culture seekers. I’m targeting the black community to build self-esteem, but also our white, Asian and Hispanic brothers and sisters who don’t know the true history of our people.”

Making Black America comes at a time when political divisions, debate over critical race theory, and the enduring influence of white supremacy have kept Gates’ stories of race and racism as relevant as ever in America. The project also provides a counterpoint to numerous film and television projects over the years, including HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, Amazon’s Them and The Underground Railroad, and the Oscar-winning short Two Distant Strangers ‘ which depict scenes of black people being killed, tortured and traumatized in what many observers classify as ‘black trauma porn’.

In a Zoom interview last week, Gates opened up about the show’s timing and goal, his thoughts on the current racial climate, and why Making Black America is the most political docuseries he’s ever done.

A vintage black and white photograph of five black women.

“5 Female Negro Officers of the Women’s League, Newport, Rhode Island,” from Making Black America.

(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

This project is a relief after so many films and films that have focused on black pain and anger. What is the primary message you are communicating?

I ask and answer the simple question that every African American understands when I say it in a classroom: What did our people do when the curtain of white supremacy fell? Did we sit and say, “Woe is me?” Did we sit and cry? Was everything we did protesting? No! We recreated the worlds from which we were excluded, just like our Jewish brothers and sisters. Our black social networks date back to before the United States, before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

How do you think this project will be received, especially when racing is such a hot topic?

The timing is perfect because I want to educate Americans about how much agency Black people have shown and possessed since the days of slavery. Our people have created a world-class culture – spirituals, blues, ragtime, jazz, folk. We have built a first class civilization.

Racism and black struggles are certainly part of the show, but it’s not the primary focus. The tone is uplifting.

There have been a million documentaries about black political protests. I’ve made documentaries about it, and we touch on them here. If you ask Hollywood what black people are doing, the answer is, “Protest, protest, protest.” But we’ve also talked about joy, ambition, hopes and dreams. We told each other stories. Me and my producers wanted to recreate the world we grew up in.

If you had a monitor 24 hours a day in the average black household, how much would there be talk about white racism? Not much unless the KKK burned a cross in town. We are humans. The political aim of this series is to show how resilient our people are in the most adverse circumstances. It’s a counterintuitive way of making a political statement. This is the most political documentary I’ve ever made. It registers the complexity of black people, and so many documentaries reduce us to responding to white supremacy.

It’s been more than a decade since the furore started when you were arrested by a Cambridge police officer who thought you were breaking into your own home. Then-President Obama arranged a “beer summit” with yourself, you, the arresting officer and Vice President Biden. How do you see this incident today?

You know, that’s like a footnote to my life. It was an aberration. I want to focus my energies on the least fortunate of our people. I’m more concerned with bringing justice to the people that this happens to every day. Our prison system is disgusting. The percentage of black people in our prison system is disgusting. I worry about police brutality.

When Donald Trump was President, you said you didn’t think he was a racist.

I said that because I had friends who knew Donald Trump – black people. Like every scholar, I had decided to agree with him when in doubt. But he is an opportunistic, anti-black racist. I don’t know what he believes in his heart, but I know what he did and said and what he did was absolutely racist. He realized he could bang that drum and hum that tune of white supremacy.

I am always fascinated by how you keep discovering new aspects of black culture to explore.

My filmmaking partner, Dyllan McGee, and I have designed 10 documentaries. We are currently working on the History of Gospel Music and the History of the Black Sermon. We want to do the African American Civil War, the history of blacks and Jews, the great migration. I happen to be able to tell Black history through a variety of mediums. I really thank God for that every day of my life.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-03/henry-louis-gates-making-black-america-pbs Henry Louis Gates wants his new PBS doc to salute Black joy

Sarah Ridley

USTimesPost.com is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@ustimespost.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button