Screengrab usually highlights the film of the week on TV. Today Richard Lutz turns his attention to a documentary that stands out.
Recently, I visited South Carolina, a hardcore southern state that was first to secede from the Union and was one of the key causes of the American Civil War. I was in Charleston, an historic town that deserved a walking tour. About two thirds of the way through, amid the antebellum architecture and cobbled streets, I realised the expert leading us had never mentioned the notable black population of the city – especially when slavery was alive and forced labour helped build the riches of the plantations.
This was a totally white perspective, one that continually bleached out the Afro-American presence in the south – or even the north, come to think of it. It’s indicative of the US’s problems with race – it cannot move forward. It would rather ignore. It’s an attitude that has led to ignorance, violence and a simmering racial division in the fifty states.
This week sees an important documentary on UK television that investigates this vision. Gary Younge, a British black journalist, fronts Angry, White and American (Thursday, C4, 22.00). Younge has always taken a sharp look at the country, especially when he was based in Chicago for The Guardian. His book Another Day in the Death in America, told the stories of the ten children on a random date who were killed by gunfire in this gun-heavy nation.
The Thursday film is equally good at ripping up the comfortable definitions of American culture. “It’s time to talk about white people,” Younge (pictured above) says as he travels all over to see how differing white communities see and experience their lives, their problems and their views on race and culture.
Despairingly, It seems that half of the white population feels ‘under attack’ and an unbelievable third think something should be done to ‘preserve’ a European heritage. This high percentage may not all be Trump supporters. But they do represent just how riven the US is right now.
Younge’s range of interviewees is wide. He gamely questions a white supremacist and then an ironic comedian who says of his white background: “We were wrong. We were the bad guys”, and he goes to comfy Portland, Maine where the dire opiate turmoil is wrecking white neighbourhoods.
He see a culture that is hesitant, angry and unsure of itself. Something is happening in the US, and to paraphrase Dylan, no-one is too sure what it is.
Younge has now moved back to Britain after a dozen years working for his paper. That may be in the past, But his TV film this week shows the problems are still are there, still open wounds.