Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/16/17 – With eerie timing, PBS premiered its four-part series PBS Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise on the night of Tuesday, November 15th, 2016. Current events cast a shadow that couldn’t be more ironic or scarifying.
As Episode I (“Out of The Shadows”) airs, the nation’s first black president is suffering the indignity of turning over his office and legacy to a racist strongman who impugned his predecessor’s legitimacy as a leader and a man. He has been endorsed by the KKK and intends to install a virulent white supremacist as his most trusted and influential advisor.
With that context in place, “Out of The Shadows” documents the successes and struggles of the civil rights movement that began in the sixties. Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. kick starts the series with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is a cornerstone of Black America’s gradual ascension to the upper echelons of political power, a statute now hobbled by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that diluted its power to ensure citizens of color equal access to the voting booth.
Archival footage is interspersed with interview segments featuring grizzled veterans of the movement such as Cornell West, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Bell Hooks. However, the background players of the movement have stories to tell that are just as edifying.
Phyllis Edison brings us back to the near forgotten struggle to integrate the Boston school district in 1974. That struggle made the word “busing” a hot button topic throughout the country.
The threats of violence and the harassment of students at South Boston High School confirmed that racism and the spirit of Jim Crow were not the sole domain of the Deep South. Additionally, the dog whistle politics and policies of the Reagan years are examined, with disturbing parallels drawn to the discourse of today.
Whereas the first hour focused directly upon “The Movement” and its successes pursuant to Martin Luther King’s “dream,” the second and third installments–“Moving on UP” and “Keep Your Head Up”–examine the mainstreaming of black culture on TV and media. Sitcoms like The Jefferson’s and The Cosby Show gave us a peek into a new black middle class, while light entertainment like Soul Train greased the rails for an avalanche of black urban music in the decades to follow.
A new black iconography jolted the sensibilities of white America. Mega-celebrities like James Brown, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Prince, et al. presaged the great crossover effect seen in today’s rainbow celebrity culture while at the same time alerting the world to the economic buying power of the black community. Moreover, unlike the majority of black celebrities during the 50’s, these new stars were confrontational and provocative.
Gates stresses the point that this mainstreaming is not indicative of a war won. Individual success stories like Barack Obama can be dangerously conflated to argue that MLK’s dream has been achieved, when the reality is that the new black iconography is a pleasing façade obscuring the fact that we are still a country divided, scarred, and unequal–the same as we have always been.
Gates cites the new multicultural elite as a red flag to a new white underclass decimated by globalism and technology. This underclass believes the pendulum has swung too far too fast and needs to be forcibly reset to a time when white working men drove the engine of the industrial world.
The final episode will be devoted to modern subjects such as Barack Obama, Hurricane Katrina, and the Black Lives Matter movement. No doubt this will be compelling viewing. However, current events as they unfold will contribute a poignancy that may render it heartbreaking to watch. http://www.pbs.org/video/2365858764/