Monday, February 06, 2012

black history month for the shut-in crowd

more and more it feels as though the only time we have a moment to talk about our history collectively as a nation is during the month of february when there is an overwhelming amount of information, events, movies and more, specifically about us. by focusing on who we are and what we've accomplished and what happened, everybody else subconsciously begins to ask those questions about themselves. we all end up with a fat albert teachable moment of some sort. who knows? we all might learn something before its done.

what's especially painful is knowing that for many of us, this is all the black history we get - they don't teach it in schools because according to some, there's no time to include it in the curriculum. this should be an ongoing conversation. there's way too many of us that just don't know.

here's a question of the moment: why did we get the shortest month of the year?

i'm the kind of negress that celebrates my blackness all the time, so when february happens along, its not that deep in my world. for me, every day is black history month. i'm always reading biographies, watching the history channel, doing research, learning something new. this is probably because my mother taught me to read when i was three years old. by the time i hit kindergarten, i was so far ahead of the other students that the teachers would leave me in the library each afternoon, to read at my leisure. all the little munchkins who could hardly spell would wonder what i was doing over there amongst the big kids and the adults. i knew from an early age that if i wanted to know anything, i'd have to find out for myself. the teacher had neither the time nor the inclination to dwell on subjects that held my interest. needless to say, my questions were completely off topic, complex, annoying and ultimately disruptive.

ah, public school.

as it turns out, my vocation suits me completely. for an actor -- a good one, anyway -- a library card is your friend. everything is research. everything.

if you don't have a lot of money to throw around and you'd like to celebrate black history month from your couch, there's plenty to watch on television. i think (well-researched) documentaries are a great way to learn about anything. the unfortunate truth is, what's on television and what's at the movies is the way most people learn about a lot of things. you want to change the world? get on television.

there are quite a few interesting documentaries that are up for grabs on public television -- so many that it makes me wonder if they'd get this kind of attention if it weren't black history month. here's highlights of a few of my favorites. (check pbs for details.)

this one breaks my heart: being pavarotti. in it, a 13 year old boy from a shantytown in south africa is given pavarotti's version o solo mio and decides that he wants to be an opera singer.

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produced by the national black programming consortium (NBPC), distributed by american public television (APT), and supported by funding from the national endowment for the arts, and the corporation for public broadcasting. afro-pop: the ultimate cultural exchange presents the south african documentary hip-hop revolution by female director weaam williams.

now this is the documentary i'd make on this topic - more than a month questions the very idea of black history month and makes a quite few interesting points along the way.

slavery by another name delves into what really happened to the slaves after emancipation. i'm pretty sure this one is going to break me but if you really want to lose it, check out the book worse than slavery: parchman farm and the ordeal of jim crow justice by david m. oshinsky. there were moments when i had to put that book down for days at a time because it was so overwhelming.

the making of the documentary slavery by another name -- a behind-the-scenes look. always fascinating, to glimpse how they put it all together.

hasn't everyone seen this? God bless those swedish television journalists, or there would be no the black power mixtape: 1967 - 1975.

the must-see american masters documentary cab calloway: sketches almost never was -- it was financed entirely by the french, with no american assistance whatsoever. may the world never forget how truly brilliant mr. calloway was -- as a bandleader, jazz vocalist and actor.

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