The eighth season of AfroPoP, the popular public television documentary series, began this month on PBS’ World Channel. For the first time, offerings from the series will air locally, with showings on February 7, 14, 20, and 21 on the TPT Life channel. A spokesperson for TPT told the MSR that more showings will be scheduled later.
The show has been a proven success on public television — “Every year we improved our carriage numbers,” says National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) Programs and Acquisitions Director Kay Shaw, in a recent MSR phone interview. Her office oversees AfroPoP — which is co-presented by American Public Television (APT). APT distributes it to the full public television system in February.
The five-week series premiered nationally January 18 with Days of Hope, about three West African migrants. “This puts a human face on this immigration [from] the perspective of those who are looking for opportunity out of poverty,” explains Shaw. Poverty often isn’t accepted as a reason for seeking asylum, she adds.
Pan! Our Music Odyssey (January 25) is “a richly done film on the history of the steel drum…and how it emerged as this world-class instrument,” continues Shaw.
Tchinda, a transgender woman since 1998, and her friends are the stars of Tchindas (February 1). It is “a very positive, uplifting funny story,” according to Shaw.
A monthly street festival in Oakland, California, is the focus of First Friday (February 8), which looks at a murder of a young Black man and “whether this murder will interrupt the momentum and the success of this festival,” Shaw says. The film is timely, she points out “because of the way these incidents impact the community around the country.”
My Africa Is and Native Sun are two shorts featured on the February 15 season finale.
This season, not unlike the previous seven, brings to American viewers films produced and directed by Blacks and other people of color. More than 50 percent of the films shown in AfroPoP are made by filmmakers of color; over 50 percent by African Americans or people of African descent, and 60 percent by women filmmakers.
“One of the reasons why we created AfroPoP (which first premiered in 2008) was because we felt like there wasn’t a world view about the African Diaspora consistently on public television from our perspective,” recalls Shaw. “We are consistently curating the show so that it covers the breadth as possible [a range] of issues and regions.
“We try to bring the world to the Black world, to the Black community through AfroPoP,” she states. “[This season] covers an array of topics from immigration, to transgender [issues], to African perspective[s] from Africa… It is not all issue-driven but if you really watch the film[s], there are a lot of issues. [But] the focus is on the storytelling and we hope to [get] viewers more deeply into these stories and these issues through this kind of programming.”
Jussie Smollett, of the hit show Empire, is this season’s host. He joins an impressive list of previous AfroPoP hosts that include Idris Elba, Anika Noni Rose, Wyatt Cenac, Gabourey Sidibe, Anthony Mackie and Yaya DaCosta.
Smollett plays Jamal Lyon on Empire: “He is a very popular character and essential to the storyline,” notes Shaw. “We have attracted the attention of heavy-hitting African American actors to host the program,” says Shaw. “They take the time out and respect what we are doing, and want to be affiliated with what we are doing.”
Although the series is now eight seasons old, it is still challenging, she quickly points out. “We are talking about public television, so it is a little competitive. Is it easy? No. Has it gotten better? Absolutely.”
And although at least 80 percent of PBS stations do carry AfroPoP, Shaw says her staff is working with World Channel officials to increase that number. In addition to the TPT Life air times, viewers in the Twin Cities can watch the stream on Worldchannel.org or AfroPoP.tv.
“It’s our eighth year, and I am already looking at year nine. I expect us to be around for a long time,” says Shaw.
Visit www.tpt.org/afropop-the-ultimate-cultural-exchange or http://afropop.tv for more info about the AfroPop series.
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Updated 2/5/2016 4:15 pm
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org