Sunday, July 13, 2008

CNN Investigates State of Black America in Two Major Documentaries

CNN Pressroom - Soledad O’Brien Reports Documentaries and Anchors Special Co-Production with Essence Magazine for Black in America

CNN’s groundbreaking Black in America initiative expands this month with five hours of special primetime programming, including two in-depth documentaries and a special co-production with Essence magazine, it was announced today by CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein at the 2008 Television Critics Association Summer Tour in Los Angeles. CNN’s sweeping Black in America coverage launched in April with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It encompasses a variety of approaches to examining how blacks have fared since then, including three two-hour documentaries, frequent news reports, an online multimedia special section showcasing video exclusives and user-generated content, and a lively 90-minute forum on what lies ahead, featuring notable black figures and co-produced with Essence for television.

CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien has spent more than a year tracking the stories of black men and women from all walks of life in this country. The result is an eye-opening pair of two-hour documentaries premiering in July: Black in America: The Black Woman & Family (Wednesday, July 23 at 9 p.m. and 12 a.m.) and Black in America: The Black Man (Thursday, July 24 at 9 p.m. and 12 a.m.). O’Brien investigates the challenges that remain on the road to equality, as well as seldom-told successes of black Americans who share their textured stories of achievement and disappointment.

“The series has critical information for people of all races – the ‘Black in America’ experience is an American story,” said O’Brien. “This is a raw and intimate look at stories that everyone will be able to relate to. I hope this documentary will open doors to dialogue and understanding.”

“We discovered while researching these projects that there are many successes in economic achievement and careers, but there are those who are left behind, creating two black Americas,” said Mark Nelson, vice president and senior executive producer for CNN Productions. “We hope viewers will come away with a better understanding of who’s ‘making it’ and why.”

Speaking to the television critics, Klein announced a special 90-minute, solutions-oriented forum co-produced with Essence magazine under the banner Black In America - CNN & Essence: Reclaiming the Dream. Essence magazine, like CNN, is a Time Warner Company.

“Our reporting for the documentary series unearthed so many pressing questions about how blacks and whites embrace the future that we wanted to offer some of the most important voices the chance to weigh in,” Klein said. “That’s why we approached Essence Communications. As a pre-eminent force for covering issues confronting black women and families, Essence magazine and its editor-in-chief, Angela Burt-Murray, have provided their expertise and added key value to this initiative on air and online.”

O’Brien and a gifted panel of thinkers and doers gathered during the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans over the 2008 July Fourth weekend. Their discussions featured Harvard University economist Roland Fryer, NPR’s Ed Gordon, actor/author Hill Harper, Dallas-based preacher and life coach Bishop T.D. Jakes, economist and Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, actor/activist Sheryl Lee Ralph, Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson, Excellence Charter School principal Jabali Sawicki, and Princeton University professor Cornell West, exploring solutions for improving the state of black families and looking at the next generation of leadership in black America. Reclaiming the Dream premieres Saturday, July 19 and Sunday, July 20 at 8 p.m., 12 a.m. and 4 a.m.

Black in America: The Black Woman & Family explores the varied experiences of black women and families and investigates the reasons behind the disturbing statistics on single parenthood, disparities between black and white students in the classroom and the devastating toll of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in black communities. O’Brien reports on the progress of black women in the workplace and in universities and the status of the black middle class. The two-hour documentary includes insight and perspective from experts including Julianne Malveaux, Burt-Murray, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and TV/radio personality and motivational speaker Michael Baisden.

In Black in America: The Black Man, O’Brien examines the personal stories of members of the 1968 class of Little Rock, Ark.’s Central High School – and those of their sons and grandsons. O’Brien explores the controversial topics of black men and fatherhood; disparities between blacks and whites in educational, career and financial achievement; and factors leading to the dramatic rates of black male incarceration. Also looking closely at the achievements of black men and the importance of the positive influences of black fathers, O’Brien speaks to music executive Malcolm Gilliam, who discusses how perceptions that aiming for success in classrooms and boardrooms are sometimes equated with “acting white.” O’Brien also speaks with actor and conservative commentator Joseph C. Phillips, comedian D.L. Hughley, and hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco to dissect myths and stereotypes and discusses whether life is better for black men now than it was at the end of the Civil Rights era.

In the course of the four-hour documentaries, O’Brien speaks with music entrepreneur Russell Simmons, entertainer Whoopi Goldberg and filmmaker Spike Lee, examples of successful black Americans, who discuss black images and portrayals in media and other subjects. Also, as reported in The Black Man, nearly one-third of African-American men will have a criminal record during their lifetime. O’Brien and Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson visit Dyson’s brother, Everett, in prison, where he is serving a life sentence for murder, and discuss how two brothers could have followed such divergent paths.

Black in America was filmed in high definition and will air on CNN and CNN HD. The series will be available on iTunes and on video on demand (VOD) 24 hours following the premiere. Viewers should check with their local cable providers for VOD availability.’s interactive special section for Black in America is available at and features excerpts from the series and exclusive interviews with participants, celebrities and experts in the series.

Bud Bultman is the managing editor for Black in America. Jeffery Reid is executive producer; James Polk and Elise Zeiger are senior producers for the series. Mark Nelson is the vice president and senior executive producer for CNN Productions.

CNN Worldwide, a division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner Company, is the most trusted source for news and information. Its reach extends to nine cable and satellite television networks; one private place-based network; two radio networks; wireless devices around the world; CNN Digital Network, the No. 1 network of news Web sites in the United States; CNN Newsource, the world’s most extensively syndicated news service; and strategic international partnerships within both television and the digital media.

All times Eastern.

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