This is a four-part PBS/BBC series on one disc. I wonder if it is supposed to be the New World equivalent to the documentary that Gates did on Africa. I didn't see that series, so my analysis may not be as informed as it could be. This series continues Gates' acknowledgment as a public intellectual. Though the title says "beyond" the color line, it really could have been re-titled "about" the color line. This documentary covers mostly Black Americans talking about race; this is the same that that DuBois contemplated one century ago. To be fair, class does come up here, both in terms of the privileged and the challenged. Also, almost every interviewee does not know what to say when asked the question "Does racism still exist?" On the one hand, they don't want to sound naive, or like a Clarence Thomas or Stephen Carter. On the other hand, they want to more well-rounded in their answer and not sound like Chris Rock's character "Nat X." Many works on "the status of Black America" focus upon crime, education, and health solely. This documentary did go into new or different directions, discussing Hollywood, migration patterns, and success stories.
Gates interviews a large number of Blacks, both stars and everyday people. There is much class diversity here. You can see the richness of the dialogue as Colin Powell says, "Our generation could not use certain words when we were growing up." and then a second later Russell Simmons, a middle-aged man, has to be bleeped out every other sentence. Unfortunately, this series includes far more men than women, very androcentric. By the way, Alicia Keys looked okay in her "Gangsta Love" video. But when Gates interviews her on the set of that video, her booty is sticking out all over the place. Go buy a belt, Ms. Alicia!
It was difficult watching Gates ask simplistic questions of people on topics that he has covered in-depth or his peers have. I did love seeing a learned Black man speaking a bit of Ebonics here and there. In addition, he slips in scholarly quotes from diverse thinkers such as Audre Lorde, William Julius Wilson, and William Shakespeare throughout the series. I am perfectly fine that this work is not as complex as Gates' "Signifying Monkey"; however, it did feel a bit dumbed-down.
I HATE the way he covered Chicago. Whereas he portrays Atlanta as a thriving, black, middle-class Mecca, he shows Chicago as if it were only in decline. Chicago is not Detroit: we are not that post-industrial. The number of Chicago residents did not decrease over the 1990s as other cities in the Midwest and East Coast have. Chicago is still full of bourgie black people (I should know). One of the reasons that Illinois have elected 2 of the only 5 Blacks who have ever served in the United States Senate is because people of all races are so familiar and unthreatened by middle-class Blacks. This piece totally disrespects the Chi!
Further, Harvard is mentioned several times in this work and no other Ivy League is brought up. Yes, Gates is a department head at Harvard, but technically he's a Yalie. You would think he would want viewers to know that there is more than one Ivy. At a time when Brown University appointed the first African-American president, a woman, in the history of the Ivy League while Harvard's president has been in the news for upsetting female faculty and insulting Cornel West and Kenneth Appiah, you would think Gates would be broader in his coverage.
Gates is seen in most scenes walking with a cane. Because Cornel West walks with a cane as well, I am concerned about the health of Black public intellectuals. However, I am glad that the days of Americans hiding their disabilities are gone. In our age, FDR would not have to be ashamed of his wheelchair.
This series would be great for people doing cursory or initial investigations in the status of Black America.