The second volume in this HBO documentary film series exploring the lives and stories of successful black Americans through interviews. The program uses the phrase “black list,” which typically refers to those who are disenfranchised and unwanted, and expresses the desire to “reclaim” the phrase in a positive light. Artist Kara Walker discusses her use of exaggerated features and images in her work in creating narratives and “a sense of possibilities,” noting that blacks in art are often second-class citizens, used as items to be viewed rather than as creators. She notes that black artists are often told that their work does not “represent” them if it is not directly related to race, and are usually accused of being “angry” even when the work does not reflect that.

Rapper and music producer RZA discusses his lack of a sense of history as a child, and his inspiration from Asian cinema, dealing with themes of oppression and rebellion, which inspired his later group, the Wu-Tang Clan. He talks about making music with his cousins in New York and later meeting Biz Markie, who expressed an interest in working with him. He also explains his love of chess and of reading, and talks about his work speaking in schools to kids, who have questioned him about no longer living in “the ‘hood,” to which he responds that no one wants to live in a dangerous area and that he is glad to have been able to travel and provide his family with a better life, having visited historical places and gained perspective about the world.

Bishop Barbara C. Harris discusses being raised Episcopalian and talks about her grandmother, a former slave, who had a memorable encounter with President Grant. She discusses her participation in the Selma to Montgomery marches and the social politics that occurred, giving her a strong sense of community. She also explains her election as bishop and her doubts about winning the spot, and eager and immediate acceptance once she learned she had won.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry discusses his memories of the film “The Wiz” and his early family life, including his tense relationship with his father and his experience being raised by and around many strong women. He refers to his troubled teenage years and says that he was inspired by a comment by Oprah Winfrey about the cathartic nature of writing, leading to his eventual theatre and film career.

Gap Head Designer Patrick Robinson discusses his interest in observing others and his fashion inspirations from everyday people. He talks about his divorced parents and his experience growing up in two communities, one primarily black and the other primarily white, and his fashion and beauty influences from both of his parents. He discusses the tough, competitive world of fashion design, and cites Jeffrey Banks as a mentor.

Physician and professor Valerie Montgomery-Banks discusses her original plans to be an engineer and eventual path to studying medicine at Harvard, changing her goals despite her mother’s encouragement to find stability. She refers to statistics about women and minorities and their lack of access to resources, talking about her time at Meharry Medical College, a historically black school, and her interest in finding “real need” and helping the community, encouraging her students to actively change the world through their careers.

Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick discusses his childhood and strong community ties, saying he was influenced by a memorable teacher and assisted by a scholarship. He refers to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and remembers the evening at the Democratic National Convention when Barack Obama accepted the presidential nomination, assisted by Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of the national anthem, which made Patrick highly emotional. He explains that he was touched by the opportunity to come from nothing and eventually shoulder a great deal of social responsibility, and mentions an example of his daughter making a comment referring to her family’s affluence, which he would never have guessed possible.

Screenwriter and producer Suzanne de Passe discusses meeting and working with music producer Berry Gordy at Motown Records and encouraging him to listen to the Jackson 5, and later being presented with the script for the film “Lady Sings the Blues,” a biopic of Billie Holiday, which she rewrote, leading to an Oscar nomination in 1973, making her the first and only black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for writing.

Pastor and author T. D. Jakes discusses the positive and negative aspects of faith, stressing the importance of passing more than just tradition, but tangible good onto the next generation, so that faith does not simply “anesthetize” a lack of rights. He discusses the problem of AIDS and encourages an end to ignorance and indifference about the subject, and says that pastors often have to offer many kinds of advice to their congregation, who seek spiritual advice before legal, and mentions the influence of his father’s illness on his desire to help others.

Actor and comedian Maya Rudolph talks about feeling forced to choose “a box” in describing her mixed race, despite the fact that one identity is not dominant over another for her. She explains that “Lovin’ You,” her mother Minnie Riperton’s famous song, was written as a lullaby for her, and says she often felt like an “imposter” during her childhood, as she looked like no one else, citing only Lisa Bonet on “The Cosby Show” as a role model of sorts. She recounts strange comments from others about her “ethnic” hair, and expresses her contentment at finding sketch comedy, which allows her to play many diverse characters. She says she thinks of her identity as “undefinable” and feels no pressure to choose one group or another.

Filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles discusses receiving a letter from France complimenting his films and his experience journeying there and showing his work to an unfamiliar audience. He explains that he was used to seeing subservient blacks in movies who did not reflect his personal experience of black people, and his eventual career in filmmaking and doubts about associating with Hollywood because of their skewed portrayals. He states that he eventually decided to write a soundtrack, along with Earth, Wind and Fire, to promote his film “Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.” He relates a time when he was living on the street near a women’s prison and the experience of seeing relatives contacting their loved ones from outside, and how this inspired a scene in another work.

Activist Majora Carter talks about growing up in a bad area of New York and not wanting to make her origins known to others because of the negative stereotypes associated with the place, explaining that she was more confused than afraid about the conditions of the neighborhood. She says that she became involved with activism and civil disobedience while at Wesleyan University, but says that many rebellions were emotion-oriented, rather than goal-oriented, and that she is more interested in making positive situations out of negatives ones and working to improve her own home neighborhood.

Actor Laurence Fishburne walks about “wearing the tragic mask” of drama and being confused with his characters by fans, saying that his first “grown-up role” was with Francis Ford Coppola in “The Cotton Club,” which led to other films with the director. He mentions his famous role in “Boyz n the Hood,” and recounts being told that his role in the film made him “father to a generation of fatherless boys,” which he found striking. He discusses the power of the media and the impact of playing real-life individuals, including his onstage role as Thurgood Marshall, which generated a wide, diverse audience.

Activist and author Angela Davis discusses her private nature and surprise at being catapulted to national infamy through her activism. She talks about her mother’s work and how she was raised to understand that one is defined by their actions, not their race, and recounts the story of how her brother, a football player, was assumed to be against her during her association with the Community Party and subsequent arrest and trial as an accomplice to murder; his further association with her damaged his sports career. She praises Dr. King as a leader, but notes the importance of the “invisible” organizers behind the marches and civil rights events, referring to herself as a “vehicle” through which others learned and were and are inspired.

Country musician Charley Pride discusses his early career in baseball and eventual move to music, where he was advised to change his name to something more “American,” which he refused to do. He talks about how some DJs did not wish to play his music because of his race, but gave in when audiences expressed their approval. He recounts his meeting of and association with singer Faron Young, and his own family’s later musical involvement. He notes that he was often asked when he sang “their music,” meaning white country and western music, but asserts that he always had his own style and was unconcerned with racial associations in his performances.


  • DATE: February 26, 2009 8:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:55:35
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 100741
  • GENRE: Documentary
  • SUBJECT HEADING: African-American Collection - News/Talk
  • SERIES RUN: HBO - TV series, 2008-2010


    • Tommy Walker … Executive Producer
    • Scott Richman … Executive Producer
    • Payne Brown … Executive Producer
    • Chris McKee … Executive Producer
    • Lisa Heller … Executive Producer
    • Sheila Nevins … Supervising Producer
    • Michael Slap Sloane … Producer
    • Timothy Greenfield-Sanders … Producer, Created by, Director
    • Elvis Mitchell … Producer, Created by, Interviewer
    • Mary Bradley … Associate Producer
    • Lukas Hauser … Associate Producer
    • Big Shoes Media … Line Producer
    • Perfect Day Films, Inc … Line Producer
    • Neal Evans … Music by
    • Jeffrey Banks
    • Lisa Bonet
    • Majora Carter
    • Francis Ford Coppola
    • Angela Davis
    • Suzanne de Passe
    • Earth, Wind & Fire
    • Laurence Fishburne
    • Berry Gordy
    • Ulysses S. Grant
    • Barbara C. Harris
    • Billie Holiday
    • Jennifer Hudson
    • The Jackson 5
    • T.D. Jakes
    • Martin Luther King, Jr.
    • Biz Markie
    • Thurgood Marshall
    • Valerie Montgomery-Banks
    • Barack Obama
    • Deval Patrick
    • Tyler Perry
    • Charley Pride
    • Minnie Riperton
    • Patrick Robinson
    • Maya Rudolph
    • RZA
    • Melvin Van Peebles
    • Kara Walker
    • Oprah Winfrey
    • The Wu-Tang Clan
    • Faron Young