TV is in need of a racial reckoning event
In 1977, the miniseries Roots drew a massive audience to ABC with its unflinching look at the horror of slavery. "Neither the times nor the climes are, of course, what they were in ’77," says Wesley Morris. "For one thing, most of the country watched that series because there wasn’t much else on. A truth and reconciliation event in 2020 would help make up for 150 years of missed opportunities. It should be broadcast live and streamed the way impeachments and inaugurations are; the way certain trials are. That would require more than just ABC’s audacity, however backhanded. It would need CBS’s, NBC’s and Fox’s; CNN’s, BET’s and the Weather Channel’s. It would demand the platforms of Netflix, HBO, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon. There would be no escaping this thing, since there is no escape in the daily lives of many Americans. We’ve marched for systemic reform. This event — some of it recorded, some broadcast live — would tell the horror story of the system, draw straight lines from slavery to right now and demand the system be reformed. In South Africa, in 1996, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission arose from an agreement to grant amnesty to those who confessed to crimes against humanity committed during more than four decades of Apartheid. The commission took statements from 22,000 victims and witnesses; thousands of people applied for amnesty; and a kind of extralegal trial ensued in which the perpetrators faced their victims. Some of the hearings were broadcast on Sundays for two years in hourlong episodes and some, on very few occasions, were live. Initially, the government resisted televising them at all but relented to international pressure....What would an American version be? Court, theater, a hearing, a telethon, therapy, TV, church, Ken Burns, Anna Deavere Smith? Each perhaps — and more. Who would make it? I don’t know. It could certainly proceed in conjunction with the minds and imaginations of the staff within the Smithsonian brain trust and Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. Who has been keeping C-SPAN going all these many decades? The production, however, is merely the second hurdle to clear. The first would be convincing executives that it’s worth doing in the first place. Here’s what to say about that: The entertainment industry itself has more than a century of harm to atone for and ameliorate. Any company that believes the solution to 'systemic racism' is The Help shouldn’t mind a surrender of its airwaves."