The Washington Post Posted 11/22/16of
This year has seen a number of race-focused documentaries that seem especially relevant following a historically contentious election. The most comprehensive of the bunch — “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” — concludes Tuesday night on PBS. In the four-hour series, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. reflects on the last 50 years of black history and the stark racial divide that emerged following the election of the country’s first African American president.
With so much ground to cover, “Black America Since MLK” is less exacting than Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” which examines mass incarceration’s disturbing legacy (and features Gates as an expert), or as detailed as Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America,” which explored the role of race in O.J. Simpson’s rise to fame and the conflicting reactions to the former football star’s acquittal in the murder of his ex-wife. But “Black America Since MLK” benefits from airing just after Donald Trump was elected president, and it helps put some of the fears many African Americans have as a result into historical context.
Part one of “Black America Since MLK,” (which aired last week, but is free to stream on PBS’s website) reminds us that “Make America Great Again” is a spin on a campaign slogan Ronald Reagan used in 1980. In the documentary, Gates notes that Reagan’s message was a cause of concern for many African Americans, who feared policies that would reverse progress achieved during the civil rights era. “Black America Since MLK” also recalls voter suppression efforts and the backlash against affirmative action in late ‘7os.
In an interview, Gates said the series, which began production two years ago and finished earlier this year, seems “eerily prophetic.” Like many in the media and television landscape, Gates expected Clinton to win the election.
“Instead, it’s Donald Trump and so many of us are concerned about sustaining the rights that our people have accrued with great pain and effort over the last 65 years,” Gates said.
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