New specials include a story of the Underground Railroad and, from Independent Lens, an intimate look at “Daisy Bates: The First Lady of Little Rock,” a collection of interviews called “Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” and a filmmaker’s cross country campaign in “More Than a Month.”
ABOVE PHOTO: angela davis, part of the PBS Independent Lens panel.
ARLINGTON, VA – PBS recently announced an expansive slate of programs profiling the rich history, culture and contributions of African Americans. The programs air as part of PBS’ celebration of Black History Month, February 2012. With new programs that delve into the archives of history, this year’s schedule provides an in-depth look at a variety of historical events from the post-Emancipation era to the rise of the black power movement.
Several of the Black History Month programs will be highlighted as part of PBS’ presentations at the TCA (Television Critics’ Association) Press Tour in January, in Pasadena, California. Notable talent appearing as part of PBS’ Independent Lens panel includes political activist Angela Davis for “Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” as well as filmmakers Sharon La Cruise (“Daisy Bates”) and Shukree Hassan Tilghman (“More Than a Month”). Additionally, author Douglas A. Blackmon will appear on the Slavery By Another Name panel during TCA.
During the PBS/TCA Press Tour, INDEPENDENT LENS presented three new shows. “Daisy Bates: The First Lady of Little Rock,” premiering Thursday, February 2, at 10:00 PM, tells the story of Bates’ life and her public support of nine black students who registered to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The film’s director, Sharon La Cruise, will appear on the PBS/TCA panel. Premiering on Thursday, February 9, at 10:00 PM is a compilation of interviews from leading African-American artists, activists, musicians and scholars in “Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.”
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Swedish television journalists came to America to document the burgeoning black power movement. This long-lost trove of film, combined with contemporary interviews to create an irresistible mosaic chronicling the movement’s evolution, features interviews with seminal black power leaders, including Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver, as well as author/activist Angela Davis, who will be a guest on the PBS panel during TCA. And in “More Than a Month,” premiering on Thursday, February 16, at 10:00 PM, Shukree Hassan Tilghman, an African-American filmmaker, is on a cross-country campaign to end Black History Month. Through this tongue-in-cheek and thought-provoking journey, “More Than a Month” investigates what the treatment of history tells us about race and equality in a “post-racial” America. Tilghman was also part of the PBS panel during Press Tour.
In the compelling story of an unsung hero, “Underground Railroad: The William Still Story,” airing Monday, February 6 at 10:00 PM, explores one man’s mission to help slaves escape to freedom. The program looks at the inner workings of the Underground Railroad through detailed records, diaries and other written accounts of the freedom seekers who made their way across the U.S. border to Canada.
Also presented during PBS’ session of the TCA Press Tour was “Slavery By Another Name”, premiering Monday, February 13, at 9:00 PM A Sundance Film Festival selection for 2012, this new documentary based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journal senior writer Douglas A. Blackmon examines the concept of “neoslavery,” which sentenced African Americans in the post-Emancipation South to forced labor for violating an array of laws that criminalized their everyday behavior. Award-winning actor Laurence Fishburne narrates the film. Blackmon and filmmaker Sam Pollard will appear on the Slavery By Another Name panel during TCA.
Frontline “The Interrupters,” premiering Tuesday, February 14, at 9:00 PM, follows a group of former gang leaders in Chicago who try to “interrupt” shootings and protect their communities from the violence they themselves once committed. From director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie), “The Interrupters” is a compelling observational journey into the stubborn, persistent violence that plagues American cities.
Rounding out the Black History Month programming are three shows that highlight the artistic contributions of African-Americans. On Friday, February 24, at 9:00 PM, turn the radio dial back to the 1950s for the tale of a black singer, a white DJ, forbidden love and the birth of rhythm and blues in GREAT PERFORMANCES “Memphis.” The original Broadway cast members of the 2010 Tony Award-winner for Best New Musical reprise their roles in this roof-raising celebration of music.
In “An Evening with Valerie Simpson”, premiering in February 2012 (check local listings), Gwen Ifill interviews Valerie Simpson, who for more than 40 years wrote hit-making songs with her husband, the late Nick Ashford. As performers, their best-known duets are “Solid” and “Found a Cure.” This is an intimate tribute to their artistry, with performances by Patti Austin, Kindred The Family Soul and Valerie Simpson.
Finally, American Masters closes out the month with a profile of Cab Calloway, one of the first black musicians to tour the segregationist South and a regular performer at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. “Cab Calloway: Sketches” premiering Monday, February 27, at 10:00 PM, showcases this exceptional figure in the history of jazz, a bandleader and singer who charmed audiences around the world with his boundless energy, bravado and elegant showmanship. Calloway was at the top of his game in the jazz and swing eras of the 30s and 40s with his signature song “Minnie the Moocher,” featuring the popular refrain “Hi de hi de hi de ho,” and his timeless rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
“Each year, PBS is committed to airing historically informative programming that not only pays tribute to the men and women who sacrificed so much for our nation, but who influenced change in the face of adversity,” said Donald Thoms, Vice President, Programming. “We hope viewers will find PBS’ commemorative programming both enlightening and enjoyable, and we are excited to present some of these selections as part of our TCA Press Tour session.”
In addition to premieres, PBS will air an encore of Freedom Riders: American Experience on Tuesday, February 7, at 8:00 PM. Freedom Riders is acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s powerful and inspirational story of the more than 400 black and white men and women who, using non-violent tactics, risked their lives to challenge segregated travel facilities in the South in 1961.
Finding Your Roots, the latest series from renowned cultural critic and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., premieres Sunday, March 25, at 8:00 PM.