Henry Louis Gates, Jr., uncovers Latin America’s African roots

in new four-part series, Black in Latin America, premiering

Tuesday, April 19 at 8 p.m. on PBS

Professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr. (pictured) in Cuba in BLACK IN LATIN AMERICA. Courtesy: Graham Smith

Black in Latin America
is the 11th documentary from Professor Gates whose previous PBS projects include “African American Lives 1 and 2,” “Oprah’s Roots,” “Looking for Lincoln,” and “Faces of America,” among others

Six Latin-American countries are featured in the series:
Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru

The series is the third part of a trilogy which began 12 years ago with
“Wonders of the African World”

Black in Latin America, a new four-part series on the influence of African descent on Latin America, is the 11th and latest documentary film from renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., presenter and writer of the acclaimed PBS series African American Lives (2006), Oprah’s Roots (2007), African American Lives 2 (2008), Looking for Lincoln (2009), and Faces of America (2010).
Black in Latin America is the third of a trilogy that began in 1999 with the broadcast of Professor Gates first series for public television, Wonders of the African World, an exploration of the relationship between Africa and the New World, a story he continued in 2004 with America Beyond the Color Line, a report on the lives of modern-day African Americans. Black in Latin America, premiering nationally Tuesdays April 19 and 26 and May 3 and 10, 2011 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings), examines how Africa and Europe came together to create the rich cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Latin America is often associated with music, monuments, and sun, but each of the six countries featured in Black in Latin America including Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, has a secret history. On his journey, Professor Gates discovers, behind a shared legacy of colonialism and slavery, vivid stories and people marked by African roots.
Twelve-and-a-half million Africans were shipped to the New World during the Middle Passage. While just over 11.0 million survived the arduous journey, only about 450,000 of them arrived in the United States. The rest—more than 10.5 million—were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America and kept in bondage far longer than the slaves in the United States. This astonishing fact changes the entire picture of the history of slavery in the Western hemisphere, and of its lasting cultural impact. These millions of Africans created new and vibrant cultures, magnificently compelling syntheses of various African, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish influences.
Despite their great numbers, the cultural and social worlds that they created remain largely unknown to most Americans, except for certain popular, cross-over musical forms. In his new series, Professor Gates sets out on a quest to discover how Latin Americans of African descent live now; how Latin-American countries acknowledge—or deny–their African past; and how the fact of race and African ancestry play themselves out in the multicultural worlds of the Caribbean and Latin America. Starting with the slave experience and extending to the present, Professor Gates unveils the history of the African presence in six Latin-American countries through art, music, cuisine, dance, politics, and religion, but also the very palpable presence of anti-black racism that has sometimes sought to keep the black cultural presence from view.

Professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr. (pictured) and the Merengue singers in the Dominican Republic in BLACK IN LATIN AMERICA. Courtesy: Jemilla Twinch

Episode One: Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided

In Haiti, Professor Gates tells the story of the birth of the first-ever black republic and finds out how the slaves’ hard-fought liberation over Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Empire became a double-edged sword. In the Dominican Republic, Professor Gates explores how race has been socially constructed in a society whose people reflect centuries of inter-marriage and how the country’s troubled history with Haiti informs notions about racial classification.
Episode Two: Cuba: The Next Revolution
In Cuba, Professor Gates finds out how the culture, religion, politics, and music of this Island are inextricably linked to the huge amount of slave labor imported to produce its enormously profitable 19th-century sugar industry and how race and racism have fared since Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution in 1959.
Episode Three: Brazil: A Racial Paradise?

In Brazil, Professor Gates delves behind the façade of Carnaval to discover how this ‘rainbow nation’ is waking up to its legacy as the world’s largest slave economy.
Episode Four: Mexico & Peru: A Hidden Race

In Mexico and Peru, Professor Gates explores the almost unknown history of the significant numbers of black people—the two countries together received far more slaves than did the United State —brought to these countries as early as the 16th and 17th centuries and the worlds of culture that their descendants have created in Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico, the Costa Chica region on the Pacific, and in and around Lima, Peru.

In Black in Latin America, Professor Gates’ journey becomes ours as viewers are introduced to the faces and voices of the descendants of the Africans who created these worlds. He shows the similarities and distinctions between these cultures and how the New-World manifestations are rooted in, but distinct from, their African antecedents. A quest he began 12 years ago with Wonders of the African World comes full circle in Black in Latin America, an effort to discover how Africa and Europe combined to create the vibrant cultures of Latin America, with a rich legacy of thoughtful, articulate subjects whose stories are astonishingly moving and irresistibly compelling.
The companion book, Black in Latin America, written by Professor Gates, will be published in 2011 by NYU Press.
Black in Latin America is a production of Inkwell Films, Wall to Wall Productions, and THIRTEEN in association with WNET. Written and presented by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Executive producers are Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Jonathan Hewes, and William R. Grant. Series producer is Ricardo Pollack. Directors are Ricardo Pollack (Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided and Brazil: A Racial Paradise?), Diene Petterle (Cuba: The Next Revolution), and Ilana Trachtman (Mexico & Peru: A Hidden Race).
Funding for Black in Latin America is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Television Stations, and Viewers Like You. Additional funding is provided by the Ford Foundation, Richard Gilder, and Alphonse Fletcher.



About Wall to Wall Productions

Wall to Wall is one of the world’s leading producers of factual and drama programming. We have a global reputation for quality and innovation. For more than 20 years, we have been supplying broadcasters around the world, and our programmes and formats have sold in more than 100 territories. Our productions range from high-end event specials to high-volume output for digital channels spanning every genre from science and history to factual-entertainment and drama.
Wall to Wall’s productions have won almost every major international television award and we regularly top UK trade magazine polls as the company rated most highly by our peers. Wall to Wall is part of the Shed Media Group. All Wall to Wall and the Shed Group’s programme and format sales are handled by Outright Distribution who are part of Warner Bros International production.

About Inkwell Productions

Inkwell Films was founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to produce sophisticated documentary films about the African and African-American experience for a broad audience. In addition to Oprah’s Roots, Inkwell Films co-produced African American Lives (2006), African American Lives 2 (2008), Looking for Lincoln (2009), Faces of America (201o) and is currently developing Faces of America as a weekly series and I’ve Known Rivers: The History of the African American People, an eight-part series. Faces of America and I’ve Know Rivers are tentatively slated for national broadcast premiere in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

About WNET

New York public media company WNET is a pioneering provider of television and web content. The parent of THIRTEEN, WLIW21, and Creative News Group, WNET brings such acclaimed broadcast series and websites as Tavis Smiley, Need to Know, Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Secrets of the Dead, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Visions, Consuelo Mack WealthTrack, Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps and Cyberchase to national and international audiences. Through its wide range of channels and platforms, WNET serves the entire New York City metro area with unique local productions, broadcasts, and innovative educational and cultural projects. In all that it does, WNET pursues a single, overarching goal — to create media experiences of lasting significance for New York, America, and the world. For more information, visit wnet.org.