From Rita Coburn’s ‘Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands,” premiering on PBS, Feb. 8

Public Media’s Serving a Feast of Black History Content this Month

by Leslie Fields-Cruz

I cannot express to you how pleased my BPM colleagues and I are to see the abundance of quality Black history content that public broadcasters are airing this month.

I can recall a time when our AfroPoP season ran on PBS stations during Black History Month. Though we welcomed the stations’ enthusiasm for the series, AfroPoP was designed to showcase films about contemporary life and culture in the African diaspora, not Black history. When we decided to move the series to April, a piece of me worried that stations would fail to find suitable content to take its place.

I am pleased to report that this year, several BPM-funded films will premiere on PBS and WorldChannel during February. Details about four of those premieres are included in this month’s newsletter. Public radio stations also are serving up a robust schedule of Black History content.

Carter G. Woodson

These days Black stories, historical and contemporary, can be found nearly anytime on virtually any network or streaming service year ‘round, which would make Carter G. Woodson — the founder of Black History Month — proud. Unfortunately, it also remains true, that some of the content scheduled for Black History Month, actually has little to do with African American history.

For instance, I’ve seen stations program films that focus on Black people from other parts of the world during Black History Month, even though the observance is supposed to be a time to lift up stories specific to the African American experience. Sorry, but public affairs shows that happen to have Black hosts, yet do not focus on history also have no business being grouped among your Black History Month offerings.

Not every film by a Black filmmaker or that features Black people qualifies either. And remember, February doesn’t have to be the only time you program films about the Black experience. For instance, Tracy Heather Strain’s film Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart, about acclaimed African American playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, could run during Women’s History Month in March; Pride month in June; Tony award season in September; and during Black History Month, in February. Luchina Fisher’s Mama Gloria could fit comfortably into some of these same monthly celebrations. Of course, these films could also run at any time of year. Programmers just need to remember that February is a celebration of our history. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run other Black content during February. Just don’t list them as part of your Black History Month programming.

Here at BPM, in addition to celebrating the broadcast premieres of films we’ve funded, we’re saluting some of the independent Black media storytellers whose work has contributed to the explosion of Black history content on public media. Each week, we’ll celebrate a different Black media storyteller on our social media channels. If your favorite person doesn’t make it onto our list, don’t worry. We plan to make this an annual Black History Month tradition, so there’s always next year. The good news is the list of Black media makers worth celebrating is growing. That, alone, is worth celebrating, which is exactly what we plan to do on Thurs., Feb. 24. I hope you’ll join us for a BPM Black History Month mixer from 7–9 p.m. ET, at our virtual gathering spot on Topia. Register here.

Meanwhile, enjoy binging on all of this great Black history content.

Fields-Cruz is the executive director of Black Public Media

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