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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