TV celebrates Black History Month
This being Black History Month, TV is airing more programming than usual that centers on both the history of black life and African-Americans in entertainment. The result is the usual hodgepodge tossed up by a medium as commercial and conflicted as television. The following are some highlights and obscurities.
–Angela Bassett stars as the civil-rights pioneer in ”The Rosa Parks Story,” a heartfelt if rather rote recitation of the facts behind Parks’ life and protest actions airing on CBS Feb. 24.
–If you get basic cable, Comedy Central is featuring a five-part series called ”The Heroes of Black Comedy,” airing every Monday at 10 p.m. The program began this week with a profile of Chris Rock and wraps up on Mar. 4 with the ultimate king of comedy, Richard Pryor.
–AMC will air one of its ”Backstory” episodes on Feb. 23 about ”Carmen Jones,” the 1954 film that starred the legendary Dorothy Dandridge.
–The Disney Channel’s fine animated series ”The Proud Family” will feature a civil-rights-themed show on Feb. 8.
–Turner Classic Movies will offer rarely-shown films featuring black performers every Wednesday, starting this week with the 1947 musical ”New Orleans,” which includes exciting performances by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.
–And if you’re lucky enough to have a cable system that carries TV Land, don’t miss the three-part weekly ”Inside TV Land: African Americans in Television” that began last Friday. The remaining two segments, one on blacks in dramas and the other on black sitcoms, are well-researched documentaries that feature rare footage of exemplary performances from the earliest days of TV as well as giving sharp critical analysis of more recent predominently-black shows such as the idiosyncratic sitcom ”Frank’s Place.”
–If you get premium cable, don’t miss HBO’s airing of the extraordinary recent biopic ”Lumumba,” about the brief reign of the man who sought to liberate the Congo from Belgium.
As always, one wishes more such programming was offered throughout the year, but we should also give proper due to contemporary black performers in regular prime-time spots. Foremost among these is Bernie Mac, the year’s break-out comic performer on TV, who’s got a fresh episode this week guest-starring veteran footballer Marcus Allen. Credit Mac and show creator Larry Wilmore for providing current weekly television’s most well-rounded, original look at black pop-culture.