Mass Incarceration

‘The 1619 Project’ on Hulu is great work from Nikole Hannah-Jones

There’s a section of America that will not deign to observe “The 1619 Project,” the six-part Hulu sequence that started Thursday and brings Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece to the display. It’s a disgrace that so many People will refuse to observe this documentary from Hannah-Jones, a journalist with The New York Instances Journal, given the masterly curation of interviews, movies, pictures and music that expands on her competition that our nation’s true founding occurred in 1619 when enslaved Africans landed in colonial America. 

It’s a masterly retelling of American historical past that, in a good world, can be simply as impactful on our picture of ourselves as People as any documentary from Ken Burns.

“The 1619 Challenge” doesn’t have the gravitas of “Eyes on the Prize,” the award-winning 1987 documentary sequence in regards to the civil rights motion, and it gained’t grip the nation the way in which the “Roots” miniseries did in 1977. However it’s a masterly retelling of American historical past that, in a good world, can be simply as impactful on our picture of ourselves as People as any documentary from Ken Burns.

However it gained’t have that affect, largely due to the persevering with refusal of many in white America to surrender their myths of how the U.S. turned the richest and strongest nation on this planet, their abject denial of African People’ contributions to this nation and their refusal to acknowledge what Hannah-Jones and “The 1619 Challenge” clarify: This nation owes a debt to Black individuals, its basis was unpaid Black labor, and it nonetheless thrives immediately due to that.

The Hulu sequence, a devoted translation of the 2021 book “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” delves into the specifics of how slavery and Black individuals formed the nation. Talking of these Black individuals, Hannah-Jones says in her introduction, “It was by advantage of our bondage that we turned essentially the most American of all.”

With episode titles like “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Concern” and “Justice,” Hannah-Jones, the narrator, interviewer and guiding spirit of the documentary, begins in Jamestown, Virginia, the place the story of African People in British North America begins. She brings us all the way in which to a gift during which protesters are within the streets shouting, “Black Lives Matter!” The documentary is a reminder of the continued results of slavery and discrimination on Black People, and it highlights the methods during which techniques of oppression, similar to housing discrimination and mass incarceration, proceed to have an effect on Black communities immediately.

That having been mentioned, if in case you have a passing data of African American historical past, have learn the earlier iterations of “The 1619 Challenge” or have simply been listening to the information within the U.S. during the last decade, you aren’t going to be taught a lot that’s new.

Hannah-Jones does inform an intensely private story about her life as a Black girl raised within the U.S. with a white mom and a Black father.

Hannah-Jones does, nevertheless, inform an intensely private story about her household and about her life as a Black girl raised within the U.S. with a white mom and a Black father. She describes how racism, sexism and classism affected their lives: not simply in her father’s birthplace in Mississippi, but additionally in Iowa, the place she grew up. Though the insertion of her personal tales into this reframing of American historical past can appear jarring at instances, it does assist floor these bigger tales and serves as a becoming rebuttal to the criticism that she’s needlessly describing historic occasions that occurred years in the past to unnamed individuals and that these occasions have had no affect on individuals immediately. 

For the reason that launch of the New York Instances Journal piece in 2019, critics have attacked the project and Hannah-Jones herself, accusing her of inaccurately reframing American historical past to improperly put the Black expertise squarely within the center. Several states have gone as far as to ban schools from using any iteration of “The 1619 Project” or similar items in the classrooms, hoping to protect from their college students’ eyes an correct depiction of American historical past in favor of the historic myths which have lengthy been promoted. However these critics have refused to acknowledge that the historical past they defend was written by white individuals and that it purposely downplayed the position of slavery and Black People within the nation.

On this documentary challenge, we see the individuals behind the tales. We hear their voices. That ought to make a significant distinction in how this work is accepted. It ought to assist make actual for individuals who have doubted it the inaccuracy of the white-male-centered framing of U.S. historical past.

Critics have attacked Hannah-Jones partially by pointing out that she’s not a historian and by questioning her experience, however besides when she’s speaking about her circle of relatives historical past, she doesn’t current herself because the professional on the problems being mentioned. She’s clear about what she is: a journalist. In virtually each scene she’s in, she has her trusty pocket book and her listing of questions, and he or she does what each good journalist does: She finds the specialists, permits them to elucidate the info after which weaves their data right into a coherent narrative arc that leaves the viewer with a clearer understanding of the topic.

To repeat, the unhappy factor about this masterly work is that the individuals who must see it gained’t watch it, simply as they refused to learn it when it was first printed. However “The 1619 Challenge” is well-told, and it might assist those that strategy it brazenly and actually higher perceive how this nation got here to be and the way the way in which it began remains to be a consider the way in which we’re immediately.

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