Do we still need Black History Month?

Three great documentaries air, including "More Than A Month," where one filmmaker explores his conflicted feelings

Topics: Television, TV, Documentaries,

Do we still need Black History Month?A still from "More Than a Month"

Black History Month is an idea that filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman finds passé. In his documentary “More Than a Month,” which premieres Thursday on PBS’ “Independent Lens,” he walks around with a signboard that says END BLACK HISTORY MONTH and receives plenty of dirty looks. But he also gets more support than he suspected — after he explains that history should be part of the American story, told even during months with more than 28 or 29 days.

As he goes about his somewhat whimsical quest, some caution him that without that annual anchor, there’d be even less black history taught than before. He takes his campaign on the road; peers into the home of the month’s originator, Carter G. Woodson in Washington, D.C.; meets with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History; and goes to Virginia to see what black history means to big fans of the Confederacy.

Eventually he gets more serious about his task, realizing that while history may convey how we were, the way we tell history conveys how we are. And he’s had one direct effect: His mother, an activist, moves the date for a black history performance she had been planning out of February to help demonstrate that it is part of the fabric of U.S. history all year round.

One day, even television networks may spread their black-heritage documentaries beyond the confines of February as well. Unfortunately, two remarkable documentaries air at the same time Tuesday in many markets.

After demonstrating that he’s a sensitive observer of life in black America with “Hoop Dreams,” Steve James is back with “The Interrupters” –  a more ambitious film that follows a fearless group of activists and amateur psychologists determined to end urban violence. It makes its national TV debut this evening on Frontline (check local listings).

That James and author Alex Kotlowitz (“There Are No Children Here”) decided to focus on Chicago at the precise time its youth-killing rates and lurid viral videos made it a national news story put them in the center of the cyclone. Their alarming footage, from the center of exploding violence and retribution, put the superficial approach of the national news media and government officials — who did little more than hold press conferences — to shame.



Even more remarkable are the counselors and community-minded people, many of whom learned their lessons in the streets, who put their lives on the line to defuse the mayhem out of a regard for love and doing what’s right.

Among them, Ameena Matthews deserves to be some kind of national heroine for her street sense, humor, decency, insight and bravery, which seem to change everyone she approaches. No matter how explosive the situation, she can enter, speak sensibly and have people listen.

James and Kotlowitz do treat their subjects seriously, listen to what they have to say and show how the activists are getting things done. For the inches of progress made before our eyes, it’s a hopeful film.

“The Loving Story,” on HBO, may seem like it is tied to Valentine’s Day. But it’s only providence that the couple at the center of the story is also named Loving.

But loving is the key. Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were both members of a small community in Virginia where whites and blacks freely worked and socialized. They met and fell in love, and like anyone else might do, got married.

But there were laws in Virginia, as there were in more than a dozen other states, outlawing any such mixing of races through marriage, using a word that is as ugly as the prejudice, miscegenation.

Somebody called the cops and the happily married duo were hit with a felony charge in 1958 — and a year in jail – which would be suspended if they’d just leave the state. Any visits back to see family or friends would have to be done individually, lest they risk arrest. They decided to fight the law, not only for their own sake, but as Mrs. Loving says in the sweetest possible way, for other people as well — because “it isn’t right.”

“The Loving Story” is in some ways the exciting case of the two young American Civil Liberties Union lawyers who agreed to take the case on and brought it to the U.S. Supreme Court. But that’s only because lawyers like to talk, especially looking back at what they can now see was the biggest case of their lives. Although there is a surprising amount of footage of the Lovings in the film, they never do say very much. They just want the right thing done. And in the end, it is.

The two are not around to tell their story, though one of their daughters is. He died in a car accident in 1975; she in 2008 at 68, surrounded by family and friends.  The last anti-miscegenation law wasn’t repealed until 2000 in Alabama. Theirs is a love story that hasn’t been fully told previously — and may not have had a showcase had it not been for Black History Month.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>