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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. films documentary on African roots

27th February 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Tia Alphonse
Contributing Writer

Commemorating Black History Month, the New Orleans community gathered at Xavier University of Louisiana on Feb. 20 to view a pre-screening of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s documentary film “Africa’s Great Civilizations” to air Feb. 27. The Pontchartrain chapter of The Links, Incorporated and WYES worked together to showcase the history of Africa and how it relates to modern culture.

“It’s so important for us to know not just where we are now but where we come from,” said Sarah Moody-Thomas, the president of the Pontchartrain chapter of The Links, Incorporated. “This is vital to us understanding who we are,” she added.

Gates’ film explored the history of Africa from the birthplace of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century. He examined various art forms such as carvings, architecture, and writings and how they shaped African civilizations and the rest of the world. The documentary will be shown in three segments premiering on PBS at 8 p.m. on Feb. 27, 29, and 30.

To promote viewing of the entire documentary series, the pre-screening gave a 30-minute preview. A panel of local experts in African history and culture discussed the film while making connections to the ancient African civilizations and modern society by way of education, religion, and music. The panelists comprised Dr. Eva Semien Baham, a Dillard University assistant professor of African American/Diaspora Studies, Damon Batiste, the president of the New Orleans South Africa Connection, Brenda Square, the pastor of Beecher Memorial United Church of Christ, and Sula Janet Evans, a singer-songwriter and Akan ancestor priest. Much like the film, the panel discussion also made the audience reflect on the media’s portrayal of Africa and its people.

“I thought the film was very enlightening. It introduced me to a lot,” said Carol Smith, a resident of Jefferson Parish. “I’m disappointed that I fell into the assumptions about Africa based on what I’ve seen on television. I will definitely be watching the documentary,” she said.

The organizers for the screening said that was their goal. They wanted to create buzz for the upcoming documentary as well as to encourage viewers to become more eager in their studies of their African heritage.

“We are hoping that it has a great impact [on the community], and that it will excite people to absolutely follow the episodes that Dr. Gates has in place. We want to quench your thirst and give you that little bit, so that you will dig deeper into what is going to be offered ultimately,” said Leila Eames, the chair of International Trends and Services Facet of The Links, Incorporated.

In their quest for knowledge, many African Americans only want to learn about coastal African regions and other regions “from which we’ve come.” Gate’s documentary encompasses Africa as a whole across different times, Moody-Thomas said. According to PBS’ synopsis of the film, it is about “the millennia in which Africa and Africans shaped not only their own rich civilizations, but also the wider world.” To understand Black history fully, African Americans must get to know more of Africa, Moody-Thomas said.

WYES does its best to provide information that hopefully sparks people’s interest in doing their own research, said Monica Turner, WYES’ outreach manager. After extending the broadcasts, Turner said people take it “as far as [they can] take it.”

This article originally published in the February 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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