To honor Black History Month, and as part of its commitment to celebrate the diversity of America year-round, PBS kicks off a new year with documentaries and specials that highlight the African-American experience through content on-air on PBS member stations and online through the PBS Black Culture Connection.
New offerings include programs that reflect the contributions of icons like the late Maya Angelou, applaud beloved artists like Smokey Robinson and showcase independent documentaries about the valiant efforts of those pushing for change through thoughtful dialogue.
“Black History Month provides a special opportunity to highlight the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture. Whether on-air or online, viewers can watch programs that honor the triumphs and achievements of many great Americans anytime and anywhere,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager of General Audience Programming at PBS.
On Mon., Feb. 6, Emmy-winning documentary series Independent Lens presents “Birth of a Movement,” based on the book “The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a Nation Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights” by Dick Lehr. The documentary tells the little-known story of William Trotter, an African-American journalist who launched a protest against the 1915 release of D. W. Griffith’s controversial epic, which laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement to come. Featuring interviews with historians and filmmakers such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Spike Lee, “Birth of a Movement” also explores how Griffith’s film continues to motivate African-American filmmakers and the artists as they work to reclaim their history and their onscreen image.
Also from Independent Lens, airing Mon., Feb. 13, is “Accidental Courtesy,” featuring Daryl Davis, an African-American musician who meets and befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to change their minds and forge racial conciliation, one racist at a time.
On Fri., Feb. 10, airing as part of PBS Arts programming, “Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.” honors singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson during this star-studded music special, hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, with a special appearance by Motown founder Berry Gordy and featuring performances by BeBe Winans, Ledisi and CeeLo Green, to name a few. The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is awarded annually to a composer or performer whose lifetime achievements exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins.
THE TALK – RACE IN AMERICA, premiering Mon., Feb. 20, is a two-hour documentary about “the talk,” the conversation parents of color have with their children about how to behave if stopped by the police. The film illustrates the issue from multiple points of view: parent, child, the police and the community. The film features interviews with Kenya Barris, creator/writer of Peabody Award-winning ABC series black*ish, musician/activist Nas, actress Rosie Perez, John Singleton, New York Times columnist Charles Blow, and Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice.
On Tues., Feb. 21, American Masters presents “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” the first documentary feature about the incomparable author and activist Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014), best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The film weaves her words with rare and intimate archival photographs and videos that paint hidden facets of her exuberant life during some of America’s most defining moments. The documentary features exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou, her friends and family, including Pres. Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, Hillary Clinton, Louis Gossett, Jr., John Singleton and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.
Also airing throughout February is the second season of the PBS original series “Mercy Street” (Sundays at 7 p.m., beginning January 22), a Civil War-era drama about the chaotic world of Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia, and the Mansion House Hospital in the early years of the Civil War. The original PBS drama explores, among other topics, the role that African Americans — including slaves, free Blacks and contraband (African Americans who fled slavery in the hope of securing their freedom behind Union lines) — played in the hospital and the city. This season introduces newcomer Charlotte Jenkins (played by Tony Award-winning actress Patina Miller), a runaway slave turned abolitionist who goes to Alexandria to help the contraband population adapt to freedom.
New Feb. 27 – March 1 from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an epic new documentary series, “Africa’s Great Civilitzations,” that brings to life stories of both little-known and celebrated African kingdoms and cultures, and includes a historical reflection on the slave trade to the Americas.
In addition to on-air programs, the PBS Black Culture Connection (BCC), an extension of PBS.org, features Black films, stories and discussion across PBS, and provides audiences with a catalogue of more than 30 programs available for streaming. Most PBS programs are available for streaming following their broadcast via the PBS apps for iOS and Android devices and via station-branded digital platforms including Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.
For a complete preview of PBS programs related to the African-American experience logon to our website: www.communityvoiceks.com.