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The Insider: Soledad O’Brien’s ‘Black’ Doc

Jul 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

After 10 screenings of the latest two installments of her “Black in America” documentary, Soledad O’Brien’s biggest worry was how her mother would assess what she saw at last week’s overflow preview for movers and shakers at CNN in New York.
“Petrified” was the word Ms. O’Brien used in a call from vacation with her family. “My parents are hard-core.”
Her mother loved it. She was in good company, literally and figuratively.
Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey’s BFF and magazine editor at large, told The Insider: “God, I want to see more. It’s long overdue.”
Cicely Tyson nodded in recognition throughout the program (and chuckled when The Insider bowed in reverence to her afterward). Also in the crowd were actresses Tamara Tunie, who became a prime-time star without giving up her daytime drama job, and Lynn Whitfield, who, like The Insider, was seated close to two of the most winning characters from “Black in America”: 19-year-old Nya Buckley of the Bronx and her 18-month-old son, Jaylen, who scribbled in one of The Insider’s notebooks when he wasn’t making his way back and forth along our row of seats in his grown-up duds. Watch for them during Wednesday night’s installment.
Ms. Buckley is one of the people viewers may recognize not because they’re famous, but because they know someone like her from their school, neighborhood or office.
She will begin studying social services in college next month, thanks to some help with childcare. A CNN camera crew was with her when she had an HIV test. She learned she is HIV-negative and she said last week she plans to stay that way.
There is hope in the young mother’s story and in others, but there also is so much disadvantage running through her and others’ stories. The screening audience laughed in acknowledgement of some familiar moments that were funny and some that weren’t.
“The black experience is very nuanced. It’s not all peaches and cream and it’s not all dire,” Ms. O’Brien said.
To those who seek a solution-oriented program, Ms. O’Brien said this is not it. Her goal was to make “Black in America,” co-produced with Time Warner stablemate Essence magazine, “real” to earn respect and to start thoughtful conversations.
To be effective, she said last week, the conversations “have got to be blunt and sometimes unpleasant.” And sometimes as strange as the talk she had with a Midwestern newspaper writer, who worked herself into an emotional state when cross-examining Mrs. O’Brien—whose mother is black and father is white—about why the CNN correspondent and former “Weekend Today” anchor characterizes herself as black instead of white.
Ms. O’Brien declined to give her own reaction to the New Yorker magazine cover satirizing the canards about Barack and Michelle Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate and his first lady. Instead, she said she’s “frankly just sick” of the tendency of people who just whine to the person next to them instead of making sure that like-minded people let offense-givers know they’re “pissed off.”
Ms. O’Brien is already deeply involved in her next projects, one a report on the third anniversary of the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and one that will take 30 kids from Flatbush to South Africa to see first-hand the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The Insider already is stocking up on Kleenex.
“Black in America: The Black Woman & Family” will be telecast at 9 p.m. and midnight ET Wednesday and “Black in America: The Black Man” at 9 p.m. and midnight ET Thursday.

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