African American Lives 2
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Rob Fields (17th May 2008).
The Show

When I was told that I was going to be receiving this title to review, I wasn't sure what I was in for, I knew that it would be a documentary. It was awful hard to miss the PBS logo on the front. The difficulty was that this is the second installment. I wish I could have seen the first prior to watching this series in case the two are linked somehow. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to make due with what I got. In this particular review, I will be looking at yet another PBS take into that great U.S. history vault. Some of the history is recent and some of it is dated so far back that you may or may not find it in history books. In this case, it will more than likely not come from the pages of history texts. No, this feature includes stories directly from some of the African-American celebrities that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is able to interview face-to-face. So, the question is: Will you be more enlightened after this history lesson – or horrified? I can’t answer that for you, except from my own experiences. So I guess we’ll only have mine to go by when it comes to this review.

“African American Lives 2” – Synopsis: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. returns as series host to guide notable African Americans on a search for their ancestry. Genealogical investigations and DNA analysis help Maya Angelou, Bliss Broyard, Don Cheadle, Morgan Freeman, Peter Gomes, Kathleen Headerson, Linda Johnson Rice, Tom Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Chris Rock and Tina Turner discover where they come from and who they are.

From just watching the first episode alone, I could tell that this series was not going to include racial bashing of any kind. It seems that all Gates, Jr. is trying to do is to get the stories straight up from the celebrities themselves. He is also able to shed some light on their pasts with some of the information that he has managed to dig up. His questions are very constructive, as is his tone when he asks them. I also liked that each celebrity who finds out the hard truth about his/her ancestors manages to take it in stride. You can tell that there is sadness, perhaps anger and resentment, on their faces. Still, many of them know that these events are in the past. Nowhere do you see any of the celebrities fire back at the oppressors of either them or their ancestors. Again, there is no bashing of any kind. Each episode manages to keep you glued to your seat. That’s good. And means that the content is very interesting.

The downsides? One of the things I didn’t like was that the celebrity interviews and stories are fragmented. I wished that they could have been more localized. For example, Chris Rock was seen in different points throughout the episodes. I felt it would have made more sense, not to mention more practical, to have his segment in ten or fifteen minutes (or however long it would have taken him to get his story across). I’m using Rock's segment as an example in general. One can piece together the stories of each celebrity being interviewed, but it probably would have been more tangible and understandable if it were not so fragmented...

My final word: It doesn’t matter what race or color you are, if you choose to partake in this title, then you’ll be in for a great, informative and interesting history lesson. However, these are only a few of the accounts on record here. I’m sure there are a great many more stories to tell when it comes to this particular era of U.S. history. This DVD shows only about 240 minutes compared to the seemingly timeless past in which this topic involves. I never got to see the first volume of this PBS series, but for those of you who have seen it – or own it – this will probably be one that you’ll want to see. My guess is that “African American Lives 2” continues from the first one. Is it worth the purchase? Most definitely.

These are four parts to this series and are as follows (view discretion is advised):

- "The Road Home" – (55:36) This episode focuses on stories of the participants’ ancestors from the early 20th century.
- "A Way Out of No Way" – (55:36) This episode continues to trace the guests’ lineages back through the lat 1800's to the Civil War.
- "We Come From People" (55:36) This episode reveals stories of participants’ ancestors during the early years of the United States.
- "The Past Is Another Country" (55:36) This episode presents fascinating discoveries about participants’ lineages thanks to DNA analysis.


Each episode is presented in anamorphic widescreen format (1.85:1 ratio). The transfers for the episodes are top-notch. The original interview footage is crisp, possibly shot on digital. There are some clips with vintage footage which shows the original film grain and unremastered quality. There are also some vintage photographs. Still, it’s always nice to see original footage and photos when they are made available. Although there are no chapter selection menus, each episode has chapter stops.


Each episode features two English audio tracks. The default track is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. The second is a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. The 2.0 mix is louder up towards the front than the 5.1 mix and could very easily be a 2.0 surround track. The latter’s audio seems to be more evenly distributed. In any case, the dialogue and the background music can be heard quite clearly. So take your pick. Do you want to have it more localized towards your television? 2.0 stereo. Do you want to have the theatrical experience? 5.1 surround.
There are no optional subtitles on this release.


The PBS.ORG option on the Main Menu takes you to a still which gives you a web address for PBS. This is the only extra on this disc.


The Show: A+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: F Overall: B+


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