STUDIO: PBS Paramount
MSRP: $21.99
RUNNING TIME: 240 minutes

The Pitch

Black folks are exploring their Roots.

The Humans

Henry Louis gates, Jr., Don Cheadle, Chris Rock, Morgan Freeman, Maya Angelou, Tina Turner, Tom Joyner, Peter Gomes, Bliss Broyard, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Linda Johnson Rice, Kathleen Henderson.

The Nutshell

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. hosts a series of specials where he interviews notable and prominent people in the Black community and explores their family ancestry as it relates to their lives and also American history.  In the shows, not only do we learn something about these people’s lives and their families we never knew, but so do the participants.

The Lowdown

African American Lives 2 continues the series of PBS specials hosted by Harvard professor and author Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  The show is designed to speak with both famous and not so famous members of the Black community about their family histories.  In the process, Gates and his researchers often discover things about the participants’ families that they themselves didn’t know.  In the first edition of this show, participants included Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey.  In this installment, Gates converses with Don
Cheadle, Chris Rock, Morgan Freeman, Maya Angelou, Tina Turner, Tom
Joyner, Peter Gomes, Bliss Broyard, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Linda Johnson
Rice, and Kathleen Henderson.

There are four episodes in this offering: “The Road Home,” “A Way Out of No Way,” “We Come From People,” and “The Past is Another Country.”  In his conversations, which range from entertainers such as Rock, Cheadle and Turner, to perhaps less-known individuals such as Linda Johnson Rice (daughter of Johnson Publications founder John Johnson), Gates delves into the lives of those that came before us and helped to establish the current status of the Black community through trial, error, and oftentimes, hardship. 

In several instances, Gates reveals to the participants details of their family history that they didn’t know.  For instance, in a discussion with radio personality Tom Joyner, Joyner discovers that two of his great uncles, Meeks and Tom Griffin, were among five Black men who were put to death in the South Carolina electric chair in 1915 following their conviction of murdering a Confederate veteran.  The discussions can frequently turn emotional, and Gates’ interviews, along with his narrative style help to paint pictures of these people who endured things in their lives such as segregation and lynching and racism of the highest order that we can only speculate about today.  In addition to personal anecdotes and research, Gates and his show also seek to use DNA profiling to try to pinpoint where participants’ roots stretch back to a time before a paper trail can reach.

Even if history and cultural study aren’t your bag, African American Lives 2 can still prove to be insightful and educational.  On a personal level, I have more than a few questions about my own father’s past that I surmise will never be answered.  I know he was a Korean War vet and a Purple Heart recipient and was quite good with the ladies, but he passed before I was two in an auto accident.  I often wonder what other stories about his family that are out there.  So I know how some of these people in this show feel. 

The Package

The picture and sound are fine, although there are no special features.

6.0 out of 10