REVIEWS: African-American Lives 2

 

PBS Documentary Airs, focusing on African American ancestral roots.

Broken into four hourlong chapters, "Lives" enlists a new group of luminaries — among them Chris Rock, Don Cheadle, Morgan Freeman and Tina Turner — to, along with Gates, delve into their genealogy, and experience "what our ancestors achieved in this country, and what they were forced to endure."

With sporadic exceptions, though, Gates manages to render these intriguing personalities dull, in part thanks to a teacher’s delivery (as if he’s speaking to young schoolchildren) and gee-whiz approach.

In spite of this, the spec yields a few memorable exchanges, such as Rock recalling how he was almost casually subjected to the worst possible racial slur by a white student in his youth.

Still, Gates’ painstaking research and revelations about the participants’ roots — while moving for some of them — seldom come to life for the audience, and frequently leave even his subjects with relatively little to say. When Cheadle is enthusiastically told that an ancestor fought in the Civil War, for example, he quips, "Do I get anything for that?"

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