Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones expands upon New York Times Magazine’s The 1619 Project with a new, six-part documentary series on Hulu. For the unaware, The 1619 Project is an initiative by the aforementioned publication to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship carrying slaves from Africa. Through several essays and photographic work, it argues that 1619 was as fundamental to the cultural and historical legacy of the United States as the year 1776. Its opening statement, which also serves as the opener on Hulu’s docuseries, illustrates the central idea of the project:
“In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. In the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.”
Each of the six episodes is focused on a key aspect of the 21st-century United States that has been unquestionably impacted by the presence of Black people in the country, and how the community continues to deal with small doses of racism that is deeply rooted in the common behavior of regular U.S. citizens. The first chapter deals with democracy, and it is based on the following idea — in the United States, one of the oldest democracies in the world, being a citizen is almost interchangeable with having the right to vote.
How has that concept affected Black people over the decades, and how does it continue to affect it today, with the passing of new voter suppression laws and the insurrection on January 6th by a crowd that included a large number of white supremacists?
The 1619 Project and the power of teaching
Hulu’s The 1619 Project is an extremely well-put-together documentary that will serve as an exaltation of Black culture and will remind the Black community of their immense contributions to one of the biggest economies in the world, and will also serve educational purposes to those willing to listen outside of the American Black population. Hannah-Jones serves as narrator and interviews multiple people related to each episode’s subject matter, be it experts, people who lived through pain caused by the topic being discussed, or just someone with something to add to the conversation.
Having lived in Spain my entire life, I was extremely touched by some of the statistics thrown around in many of the episodes (for instance, 1/4 of Black people in the U.S. today have traces of European DNA in them — a legacy of enslavers unmercifully raping their slaves from a very young age, many times just so they would have more slaves for no additional cost), but I also appreciated the fact that it patiently explained how some modern-day practices are microcosms of racism that have been going on for decades.
Going no further, the third episode deals with the history and legacy of Black music, from its origins to the different shapes it’s taken over the centuries. Specifically, it deals with the question of cultural appropriation from the white population of music they didn’t create.
As an avid consumer of American film and television, but not someone ingrained with the culture as if I’d been born there, there are a few questions like these whose answers escaped my understanding of the history of the country. Those questions are sometimes difficult to ask without ruffling any feathers, but they are also difficult to answer without having lived and breathed the culture. Why is it wrong for white people in America to play Black music? What are the boundaries there? Is it wrong to celebrate it too?
Exploiting the 60-minute runtime on each episode, Hannah-Jones and the entire team behind The 1619 Project take their time to explain the backstory behind some of these, and at the same time, they leave the viewer with interesting topics for conversation. Will there ever be a time when these racial differences are a question of the past, and we can all celebrate and honor each other without distinguishing between the color of our skin?
The unfortunate truth is that the U.S. is not the only country haunted by its own past. Ghosts from the Spanish Civil War 90 years ago still navigate today’s political spectrum in that country, Mussolini’s politics and opinions are still somewhat present in today’s Italy, and memories of the Soviet Union continue to shape the entire East of Europe.
The terrors of slavery may have a larger presence in America than in other Western countries, but the truth is that having unhealed scars that continue to divide today’s society is not exclusive to the U.S., and the conversation that The 1619 Project intends to incite is one that many other cultures might benefit from too — that of revisiting the past to understand where we are today.
The 1619 Project is currently available to stream on Hulu. Let us know what you thought of The 1619 Project! Follow us on social media to learn about more content like this.
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