ITVS Heads into High Gear for Black History Month

By Sally Jo Fifer, President & CEO of ITVS
Posted on January 31, 2012

The organization has supported a slate of documentaries that shine a unique light on the history of African American activism. Several of the films will air this month on Independent Lens.


February is Black History Month.  It’s an important time for public media, because the heritage months — as artificial as they seem to some, including ITVS-funded filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman, whose film More than A Month tracks his playful yet serious quest to end Black History Month — act as public reminders of our mission to bring underrepresented voices into the mainstream and ensure that the diversity of the nation is reflected on television.


One glance at public television’s offerings reminds us that American history is black history and black history is American history, so intertwined and inseparable are the African-American experience and the life of the United States. What you’ll find on public television in February are nine new, original programs across PBS series like Frontline, Independent Lens, and Great Performances, alongside encore presentations of landmark programs like Freedom Riders.  Among the premieres are four ITVS programs that together represent part of what’s special about public television: not just telling stories that should be told and heard, but looking for new and innovative ways to tell them.  And making sure communities can use these stories to engage, face-to-face and online, in ways that celebrate, debate, and most of all connect. 

On the innovation front, the mobile app More than a Mapp brings the spirit of More than a Month to mobile devices, providing a fun and interactive (and year-round!) way to learn about Black History through landmarks and historical sites nationwide.  We’re also piloting a new online screening tool — sort of a virtual Community Cinema event, moderated by local public television stations, where people can watch a film together and discuss in real time — with selected Black History month programming through February. Back in the brick-and-mortar world, Community Cinema is on track to host 200 screenings in January (the biopic Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock) and February (More Than a Month).  And that doesn’t include the selected outreach events to accompany the ITVS-funded The Interrupters,a groundbreaking look at the urban cycle of violence in Chicago and one of the most talked about films in recent history, which airs on Frontline on February 14.


We’re also excited about two international programs that shed surprising light on the African-American experience: February’s The Black Power Mix Tapea retelling of the Black Power Movement through lost footage filmed by Swedish journalists, and the January broadcast of Have You Heard from Johannesburga five-part look at the global movement to end apartheid in South Africa.


All in all, it’s an emblematic way for ITVS to start a year filled with programming that goes straight to the heart of public media’s mission: sparking all-American, year-round, year-after-year conversations about who we are, where we’ve been, where we’re going, and who we want to be.


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