Campus & Community

Gates documentary series receives $12M in funding

4 min read

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) recently announced funding in the amount of $12 million for three, new public television documentary series in which Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. will explore the meaning of race, culture, and identity in America. Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, as well as director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. His recent PBS series include “African American Lives” and “African American Lives 2,” “Oprah’s Roots: An African American Lives Special,” “America Beyond the Color Line,” and “Wonders of the African World.”

Hosted and co-produced by Gates, the forthcoming projects (which are expected to premiere in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively) will include “The Faces of America,” “Searching for Our Roots: The History of the African American People,” and “African American Lives 3: Reclaiming Our Past.” Each will be produced by WNET in New York, Kunhardt Productions, and Inkwell Films.

In “The Faces of America,” Gates will again put to powerful effect the latest DNA technology and genealogy, this time in a four-part examination of well-known Americans of all races and the often-surprising stories of their ancestors. In “Searching for Our Roots: The History of the African American People,” Gates will investigate the 300-year black experience in America. “Searching for Our Roots” will run eight hours total. Finally, in “African American Lives 3: Reclaiming Our Past,” Gates will conclude his popular series on the genealogy of prominent, contemporary African Americans.

“These films will give viewers, especially young people, a connection to their heritage and reinforce for all of us that a connection to the past can be a positive resource for the future,” said Pat Harrison, president and CEO of CPB. “That knowledge can be a source of inspiration.”

“We are very pleased that Dr. Gates will continue his important work on PBS. What Skip has accomplished is blending traditional historical research with scientific research to open up chapters of history previously beyond our reach. He has created what is virtually a new genre on television,” said Paula Kerger, PBS president and CEO. “Skip’s series consistently offer an open and accessible conversation that fosters a real understanding of our shared history as Americans, helping everyone recognize that we all stand on the shoulders of giants,” Kerger added.

“PBS has the unique capacity to disseminate sophisticated ideas to millions of viewers in a lively, compelling, and accessible way,” said Gates. “The incredibly enthusiastic response from all sections of the American public to our ‘African American Lives’ series reveals a deep hunger for programs about the African American experience and, indeed, about the complex interactions between Americans of all colors and genders throughout the history of this great country. All Americans hunger to learn about the hidden aspects of our shared history, and our programs are aimed to fill precisely that need.

Gates added, “I am deeply honored by this unprecedented expression of support from CPB and PBS including the first comprehensive series ever done about the whole sweep of the history of African Americans in this country between 1619 and the present. Our audience ranges from schoolchildren to adults, representing all sectors of American society. I want these programs to help to educate all Americans about our fascinating and unusual history and therefore, about ourselves, about who we are as a people today.”

The documentaries will be complemented by an online oral history archive, a resource-rich Web site with user-generated content, educational tools, community outreach, and a national heritage registry and preservation campaign.

CPB, a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,000 locally owned and operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television, and related online services.

PBS is a media enterprise that serves more than 350 public noncommercial television stations and reaches nearly 73 million people each week through on-air and online content. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is a leading provider of digital learning content for pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade educators and offers a broad array of other educational services.