PBS unveils 2012 Black History Month line-up

Programming slated to air in February will include Underground Railroad: The William Still Story and Daisy Bates: The First Lady of Little Rock, as well as feature documentaries The Interrupters, Slavery by Another Name and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (pictured).
December 8, 2011

U.S. public broadcaster PBS has unveiled the programming for Black History Month in February, including a number of specials and feature docs looking at a variety of historical events from the post-Emancipation era to the rise of the Black Power movement.

Among three new titles for the ‘Independent Lens’ strand will be Daisy Bates: The First Lady of Little Rock, premiering February 2, at 10 p.m. EST. The special tells the story of Bates’ life and her public support of nine black students who registered to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Meanwhile, feature doc The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (pictured above) will air February 9 at 10 p.m. The archival film is a compilation of interviews from leading African-American artists, activists, musicians and scholars filmed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Swedish television journalists came to America to document the burgeoning Black Power movement.

In More Than a Month, which premieres on February 16, at 10 p.m., African-American filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman goes on a tongue-in-cheek, cross-country campaign to end Black History Month, investigating what the treatment of history tells us about race and equality in a “post-racial” America.

Elsewhere, Underground Railroad: The William Still Story, airing February 6 at 10 p.m., explores one man’s mission to help slaves escape to freedom. The program looks at the inner workings of the Underground Railroad through detailed records, diaries and other written accounts of the freedom seekers who made their way across the U.S. border to Canada.

Also featuring on the Black History Month slate is Slavery by Another Name, which is an official Sundance Film Festival selection for 2012. Premiering February 13 at 9 p.m, the doc is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journal senior writer Douglas A. Blackmon.

It examines the concept of “neoslavery,” which sentenced African-Americans in the post-Emancipation South to forced labor for violating an array of laws that criminalized their everyday behavior. Actor Laurence Fishburne narrates.

On the ‘Frontline’ strand, Steve James’s multiple-award winning doc The Interrupters will premiere February 14 at 9 p.m. The film follows a group of former gang leaders in Chicago who try to “interrupt” shootings and protect their communities from the violence they themselves once committed.

Rounding out the season’s programming are three shows that highlight the artistic contributions of African-Americans: A ‘Great Performances’ special, Memphis, in which the original Broadway cast members of the 2010 Tony Award-winner for Best New Musical reprise their roles for a celebration of music; An Evening with Valerie Simpson; and an ‘American Masters’ special, Cab Calloway: Sketches, which profiles one of the first black musicians to tour the segregationist South and a regular performer at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club.

“Each year, PBS is committed to airing historically informative programming that not only pays tribute to the men and women who sacrificed so much for our nation, but who influenced change in the face of adversity,” said Donald Thoms, PBS VP of programming.

“We hope viewers will find PBS’ commemorative programming both enlightening and enjoyable, and we are excited to present some of these selections as part of our TCA Press Tour session.”

In addition to premieres, PBS will air an encore of Freedom Riders: American Experience on February 7, at 8 p.m. In mid-January, the network’s online Video Portal will also release a special collection for Black History Month 2012, featuring new and encore programming.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor-in-chief and content director for Realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to Realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.