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May 2006

African American Lives DVD Review

By Kam Williams

African American Lives DVD Review


Cast: Benjamin Carson Sr., Henry Louis Gates, Whoopi Goldberg, T.D. Jakes, Mae C. Jemison, See more
Directors: Graham Judd, Leslie D. Farrell
Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Pbs Paramount
DVD Release Date: May 2, 2006

DNA Helps Celebs Discover Roots in PBS DVD

Most African-Americans know precious little of their ancestral lineage. Generally, they can trace their roots back to around the end of slavery, at which point they hit a dead end. By design, that sinister system of exploitation divorced its victims from any connection to their family trees by deliberately destroying black family structure.

For this reason, African-American Lives turns out to be both a fascinating and very-revealing TV program. Narrated by Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., this four-part PBS series follows the extraordinary efforts of nine notables to find their roots, including Oprah Winfrey , televangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes, comedian Chris Tucker, neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, Quincy Jones, astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and Whoopi Goldberg.

Courtesy of DNA evidence, Gates is certainly surprised to learn that more of his ancestors came from Ireland and France than from Africa. By contrast, Bishop Jakes' is enabled to pinpoint his forefathers' point of departure from Africa. Upon his travel return, he is greeted by a long-lost relative with, "Welcome home!"A visibly-moved Jakes responds, "You're strangely familiar to me. I swear I know you, but I can remember where from." As he explains the experience, "I can't really describe what it was like for me to get off a plane and have somebody say ŒWelcome Home!' and try to process it, and ask myself, ŒIs this true? Is this home?' ItŒs like a set of twins who were separated at birth and raised in two different parts of the world meeting for the first time. And for the first time in my life, I wondered what I would have been, had my ancestors not been enslaved."

Alternatively emotional and informative, an overdue return-to-roots saga made possible through an unprecedented combination of DNA, genealogy and oral tradition.

Excellent (4 stars) Unrated Running time: 240 minutes Distributor: PBS/Paramount Home Video