BBC 2 is lining up what should be an intriguing and interesting mini-series on Black American Culture. The two parter features acclaimed actor David Harewood who takes viewers on a journey across America to meet his heroes and discover some of the true stories behind the artists who captivated and inspired him, and changed the course of his life. Along the way he discovers how these African American performers, film-makers and writers have come to transform popular culture around the world.
In the first episode, (aired this Thursday, 30th March) David takes us from the decade of his birth, the 1960s, to the birth of hip-hop in the 1990s. With songwriter Eddie Holland he discusses how Motown’s creator, Berry Gordy, turned the sound of Black America into the sound of young America. Smokey Robinson then reveals the label’s surprising links with the Civil Rights movement. The programme also explores Motown’s legacy, including items on Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross.
David also follows the story of actor Sidney Poitier, who inspired his own choice of career, using his box-office power to change the script for ‘In the Heat of the Night’ to enable his character, Virgil Tibbs, to make a stand against southern racism. In the programme, Poitier’s co-star, Lee Grant, talks about how people on the film set reacted. David encounters fellow actor John Amos, who played Kunta Kinte in the ground-breaking TV series ‘Roots’, and together they discuss how the series rewrote history and forced America to reckon with its past. In a busy programme David also learns how Blaxploitation films redefined the movie business.
Get on Up: The Triumph of Black America starts 30 March, 9pm, BBC Two.