Sunday, June 12, 2011

Black in Latin America DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Dr. Gates’ PBS Series Released on DVD

In terms of slavery in the Americas, most people assume that more Africans were brought to the U.S. than anywhere else in this hemisphere. But truth be told, only a tiny fraction were transported to this soil, with ten times as many being taken to Brazil, and even twice as many to Cuba.
This is just one of the fascinating factoids divulged in Black in Latin America, a PBS special hosted by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates. A half-dozen countries serve as the focus of this four-part series, namely, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Gates travels to each nation to talk to the locals, capturing the flavor of the present-day culture in the light of the lasting legacy of slavery. Despite having majored in Black Studies, I have to admit that I found all of the episodes extraordinarily informative.
For example, I had no idea that supposedly freedom-loving President Thomas Jefferson had not only refused to recognize Haiti after that nation declared its independence but that he derogatively referred to its emancipated inhabitants as cannibals. In terms of Cuba, I was surprised to learn of a recent return of a color-coded caste system on the island, ostensibly as a consequence of an influx of dollars from lighter-skinned relatives in the United States.
Similarly, Brazil, often promoted as a post-racial utopia, is presented here as the undeserving beneficiary of a myth yet to be realized. Who knew that slavery was only abolished there in 1888? And racism is apparently ubiquitous in Peru, too, where for a pittance many blacks still pick cotton in fields on the very same plantations as did generations of their ancestors.
Dedicated to Dr. Gates’ recently-deceased, beloved father (who was prominently featured in the PBS series African-American Lives), Black in Latin America is a must-see for anyone interested in appreciating the history and continuing fallout of slavery South of the Border.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 240 Minutes
Distributor: PBS
DVD Extras: None

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