Hulu's "The 1619 Project": Reframing the Legacy of these United States by Getting to the Truth

By #AndradeSays Archives
Cover image for  article: Hulu's "The 1619 Project": Reframing the Legacy of these United States by Getting to the Truth

In recent years, the world of television underwent a quiet transformation of sorts. Gone are the days of taking the whitewashed version of history we've all been spoon-fed at face value. The truth is in more and more of what we watch, whether it's Watchmen teaching us about the Tulsa massacre, or black-ish teaching us how almost every modern race-related issue finds its origin in American Slavery. However, these are fictional shows, and the truth, as well as the messages behind it, can get lost in a studio's effort to, you know, make money. This brings us to the topic at hand: facts and attempts to both share and protect them. The 1619 Project is Hulu's newest documentarian endeavor created specifically in pursuit of those two ends. This isn't just about representation anymore. It's about reframing the legacy of these United States by getting to the truth.

The 1619 Project began in 2019 as a collection of long-form essays in The New York Times. The timing was intentional -- 400 years after 1619, the year that the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia (over 150 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and almost 250 years before slavery would be abolished). That's the seeding idea behind the project. Nikole Hannah-Jones, who not only launched the project, but wrote the opening essay (for which she received a Pulitzer Prize), said this: "[The 1619 Project] aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."

And that's really what it all comes down to, right? The narrative? That's the reason nobody f**ks with Christopher Columbus anymore, and why we now know Thomas Edison was more "idea thief" than "legit inventor" -- because the BS narrative we've all been fed has finally been changed. I mean, the Civil War wasn't about states' rights any more than James Sims was a legitimate hero. Maybe he fathered the practice of gynecology, but he did so by experimenting on living enslaved Black women using zero anesthesia, because he was an idiot who thought Black women felt no pain. That's like if I cured cancer, but I did it by disemboweling white women … I'm pretty sure that would make me a monster.

That's what The 1619 Project is. It's a visual retelling of the longform essays, poems and otherwise that chronicle the omitted truths of our country's very bloody and particularly anti-Black legacy. That function, however, is also the main reason that it's received so much pushback from opposing forces. The National Review recently took a stab at both Hulu and Hannah-Jones, calling The 1619 Project "dangerous revisionism." What's dangerous about correcting information that's incorrect? I see none, unless I was someone who's benefited from its original falseness in some way, in which case … yeah, the truth would feel pretty dangerous to me and my way of life. That's probably the reason former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the project "a slander on our great people."

In an interview with ABC news, Hannah-Jones is quoted as saying, "There's a great deal of hope in knowing all of the inequality we see has been constructed. That means it's not natural. It's not innate. It doesn't have to be this way." Obviously, this is a sentiment Hannah-Jones and I both share, although I must say that my outlook on the situation may seem a bit more cynical than hers. For me, whether or not this inequality is natural was never the question. Of course it isn’t, and there definitely is  hope in that. Instead, my concerns are with the amount of time the beneficiaries of said inequality have spent "in the lead," so to speak. I once heard a saying that went something like, "If you walk ten miles into the woods, you have to walk ten miles to get out." So the question isn’t whether or not leaving the woods of inequality is possible. The question is how far in are we today? Have we even been walking the right direction?

As a piece of media, specifically a six-part documentary mini-series, The 1619 Project holds its own. It's beautifully shot and edited, as I expected it to be, but it wasn't all gold. For whatever reason, the "Music" episode didn't hit me as hard as "Race," but upon further reflection I attributed that to how relevant race as a construct is to every other topic in the series. Any disinterest I felt was related to the series' documentary format, and not so much the subject matter.

However, these are hour-long episodes that cover a lot of ground, and while the sustained exposure to truth is uplifting and freeing, it can also be an emotionally taxing process. Learning more about the horrors perpetrated against one's ancestors and then watching them be linked to how you and/or your present-day peers may be being treated can be difficult at times. And if you are someone who's ancestors may have been said perpetrators, or worse, you just so happen to benefit from the framework of systemic racism that modern-day America exists on top of, well, yeah, this maybe isn't the most pleasant watch.

Most important, though, is the fact that this type of information is under attack. Recently, Florida has been in the news for a number of reasons, the main ones being the legal banning of African American Studies from Florida public schools, followed less than a week ago by Florida school teachers removing every book from their classroom libraries for fear of being charged with felonies for exposing students to books that are "harmful to minors." While the latter story isn't limited to books about American history and slavery, the idea that students reading what they want and thinking for themselves shares the same energy as those who feel The 1619 Project assaults the "accuracy" of our already very whitewashed history books.

This Thursday, Hulu's The 1619 Project will telecast the final two episodes of the mini-series, "Fear" and "Justice," which is fitting, because fear of the truth always has and will continue to lead to gross miscarriages of justice.

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