More Than A Month More Than Just Another Documentary

Courtesy:  PBS/ITVS/National Black Programming Consortium/Sundance Institute/CPB

Courtesy: PBS/ITVS/National Black Programming Consortium/Sundance Institute/CPB

PBS has shown time and again over the course of its history why it is one of the most important networks on television with documentaries from filmmaker Ken Burns, informative programs such as Frontline and plenty of kid friendly programming on its PBS Kids affiliates.  Now with the release of More Than a Month, PBS has shown once again why it continues to be one of television’s most important networks.  More Than a Month presents to audiences the controversial discussion of whether or not America should bring an end to Black History Month.  What is most interesting about this documentary is that believe it or not, this film was written and directed by an African American.

More Than a Month opens with the now much talked about 2005 60 Minutes interview of actor Morgan Freeman by the late Mike Wallace in which Freeman openly states he felt that there should be no Black History Month.  Thus begins Shukree Hassan Tilghman’s journey in his attempt to bring an end to Black History Month.  The standard argument brought in support of ending Black History—beginning with Freeman—is that Black history is American history.  This is very true.  But in his journey to end Black History Month, Tilghman learns more about Black History, thus leading to a little bit of a change in his view.  It may even change the view of audiences, too.   Even Tilghman himself reaches the understanding that we shouldn’t end Black History Month.  Rather, we need to transcend it.  Those are his exact words.  What he means with this is that we need to reach the point at which Black history is no longer separated (or rather segregated) from American history in schools.  We need to reach the point at which what originally started as Black History Week is no longer required, but wanted to discuss.  That is one of the most interesting of the arguments raised in this entirely unbiased hour long program.

While the standard argument against Black History Month is that it is just one more form of virtual segregation, there are many other unexpected arguments raised.  However those in favor of Black History Month are just as interesting.  One of those is the point that the moment we stop making Black History Month mandatory, no one will discuss it.  We as a culture already seem to celebrate it and then sweep it under the proverbial rug.  Ironically, that is one of the arguments used in favor of abolishing Black History Month in the course of the documentary.  Tilghman interviews an African American professor who works as a social psychologist at Harvard University in his search for information.  He argues exactly what another person argues.  Only he turns it on its ear.  He notes that while it originally started as Black History Week, it became Black History Month essentially in order to appease certain parties so as to keep them quiet so that the country could go back about its ways once the month was over.  That people feel Black History Month was seemingly established as a chore of sorts is exactly what Tilghman is pointing out in the need to transcend it.  Until we can get past the point where we feel that it’s a chore to talk about Black History Month on either side, the division will not end.

Both of the arguments made in the film and noted here are valid arguments.  The arguments made on both side are among many arguments made regarding whether or not we should have Black History Month.  Also notably raised in the film is that the main purpose of Black History Month was not so much about pride as some might claim.  It was originally started as a means to establish an identity for African Americans.  That need for an identity still stands to this day, too.  It goes back to the prior discussion on whether or not it is a chore of sorts.  When it’s all said and done, the discussions raised by Mr. Tilghman and his guests throughout the course of this program will hopefully lead to a whole new openness about not just Black History Month but about the importance of a people as part of a whole society and culture.  It will hopefully bring people to the point that they see that even in the 21st Century, there is hope that we can one day rise above our differences and see each other as a whole people, rather than single parts of the whole separate from one another.  It is one more way that PBS has proven why it is still one of the most important networks on television to this day.  And whether during Black History Month or another time of the year, it is a documentary that is fitting both in the classroom and in the home for audiences of all ages.  It is available now and can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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Scholastic Set An Excellent Tool In The Classroom And The Home

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New video/Weston Woods/New Kideo

Courtesy: Scholastic/New video/Weston Woods/New Kideo

Scholastic’s African-American heritage based box set, Stories About African American Heritage featuring MARCH ON! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World is a wonderful box set.  This triple-disc set is an excellent tool both inside the classroom and in the home, regardless of whether viewers are celebrating Black History month or simply to learn about an important part of African American history.  The stories culled for this collection celebrate some of the most respected and notable figures in the African American community such as musicians Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.  Also featured in this set are stories of famed civil rights figures Rosa Parks and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Viewers are even introduced to some of the most well known African-American stories.  In all, this collection includes thirteen stories for audiences.  As an added bonus, interviews with the sister of Dr. King, Dr. Christine King Farris and with author of Henry’s Freedom Box, Ellen Levine.  There are even discussion questions included for students, children and parents both in the classroom and at home.  And what Scholastic set would be complete with the optional Read-Along feature?  That is here, too.  It all comes together to make a box set that any viewer will appreciate and enjoy.

Stories About African American Heritage (as it will henceforth be known) opens fittingly with a collection of stories centered on two of the most well known figures in the Civil Rights movement; Rev. Dr. martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.  It opens with a story by Dr. King’s sister, Christine King Farris titled, March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World.  In this story, Mrs. Farris describes not only how her brother prepared for his landmark speech at the nation’s capitol, but the reaction of the people who were in attendance.  The story is made even more interesting as it includes actual photos of Dr. King throughout the story as well as of those in attendance.  Audiences also learn that Dr. King wasn’t the first minister in his family.  His grandfather, A.D. Williams was also a minister.  Just as interesting to learn is that while most people remember this moment in history for Dr. King’s speech, many may not know that Dr. King had also come to meet with Congressional leaders about passing a new law that would make whites and blacks truly equal.  He hadn’t come just to give a speech.  This story is more than just a story.  It’s a trip back in time to a pivotal moment in history.  It’s a trip that everybody young and old, white, black and otherwise should take at least once.  While the story’s companion interview with Christine King Farris is dated (it mentions the monument built in his honor before it had been built), her interview helps to bring the story full circle and show just how significant his speech was and still is today to Americans as a whole.

The main feature on Dr. King is a very powerful and moving piece.  It’s just one of the interesting pieces included in this set of thirteen stories.  Also included as part of the set, is a feature on famed pianist/composer and band leader Edward Kennedy Ellington, A.K.A. Duke Ellington.  Right from the start, audiences get a little history lesson on Ellington that’s easily accessible for all audiences.  Whitaker reads to viewers that Ellington was born in 1899 in Washington, D.C. and that the name “Duke” was a name he brought on himself as he told people to call him by that name.  Viewers will be interested to learn that Ellington apparently originally did not lean towards music.  Rather, according to the story—narrated by veteran actor Forest Whitaker—Ellington originally was more interested in playing baseball than the piano.  The story of how Duke was drawn back to the piano is just as entertaining as his early lack of interest in the instrument.  The history lesson centering on Duke’s rise to stardom is equally easy to grasp for audiences.  Being that it’s being read out loud, both parents and kids alike will easily remember the majority, if not all, of what they are taught.  That’s really what makes this an especially nice addition to this set.  Just as with the feature on Dr. King, it doesn’t come across as a history lesson.  It comes across simply as a story about important historical figures since it’s coming across on the screen instead of in a book.  The visual images will stimulate the eyes and mind, while the history will stick with viewers.  As a result, it could help to foster an interest in music in younger viewers just as the piece on Dr. King could get young audiences interested in politics.  Again, it’s one more wonderful tool for viewers both in the classroom and in the home.

The last disc in this set celebrating African American heritage focuses on the literature of a people.  Just as religion, politics, and music are important parts of African American history, so is literature.  In the set’s final disc, viewers get a healthy dose of literature from the African culture as it includes five classic stories anchored by the story, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.  This tale tells the story of why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears, just as the title notes.  According to the story, the mosquito buzzes in people’s ears because it has a guilty conscience after causing the death of a baby owl.  This concept might be a bit much for some younger audiences.  So parents should use their own discretion with this story.  That aside, it still is an interesting addition to this final disc’s collection of stories.  Added to the set’s other stories, the entire collection comes together to make a set that again is a wonderful tool that any parent or educator will want to use every year any time of year, not just for Black History Month.  It is available now and can be ordered online via New Kideo’s official website at http://www.newkideo.com/scholastic/the-heritage-collection/.

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