Saturday, May 3, 2008

African American Lives 2 DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Second Season of PBS Genealogy Series Arrives on DVD

A year ago, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates hosted a 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 brought him back along with eleven new recruits curious about their lineage.
This go-round, the luminaries include 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.
The format features four episodes, the first focusing 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 homelands.
Highlights include Tom Joyner’s learning of the legal lynching of two of his grandmother’s brothers for the murder of a white man and the reading from a slave ship’s log about captives’ deaths from sickness and suicide. Then, there’s 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, probably the series’ 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 age of 17. She talks about how she never knew she was part African-American until his death.
As moving, informative and fascinating a four hours as you can hope to find attempting to reconstruct the genealogy of black families torn asunder during the days of slavery.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 240 minutes
Studio: PBS/Paramount Home Entertainment

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