By RON WYNN | Nashville Voice
With about a week remaining in Black History Month for 2019, anyone who hasn’t checked out a trio of Netflix series has missed the boat on some vital programming.
From classic soul to current politics and vintage history, the network has something for everyone. Three prime choices are “The Two Killings of Sam Cooke,” Killer Mike’s “Trigger Warning,” and Kevin Hart’s “Guide To Black History.”
“The Two Killings of Sam Cooke” is the latest in an ongoing documentary/investigative reports series created by Emmy and Peabody award-winners Jeff and Michael Zimbalist under the overall banner of “Remastered.” The duo previously covered Jam Master Jay, Bob Marley, and Johnny Cash among others.
Their spotlight on Sam Cooke combines a retrospective examination of his musical and cultural impact with a probing, often disturbing look at the circumstances of his death and the still unanswered questions that remain regarding it.
The program debuted Feb. 8, and even those who’ve read previous comprehensive Cooke biographies by Daniel Wolff or Peter Guralnick may still discover some things about the vocal great they didn’t previously know.
Cooke saw the link between cultural, political and economic empowerment, and maintained control over his music by establishing a record label and publishing company. He was a giant in both gospel and secular music. He also openly supported the Civil Rights Movement, produced a spoken word album featuring Muhammad Ali long before he became a globally popular icon, and included Malcolm X in his immediate circle of friends. Cooke wanted to create a national union of Black performing artists, and he constantly preached Black self-reliance and creative control.
But what the show’s directors can’t definitively do is prove Cooke was murdered. They revisit his controversial shooting and interview friends, family, academics and cultural historians.
But no one’s still able to conclusively show Sam Cooke was set up and murdered by folks unknown, which has long been the prevailing conspiracy theory.
However, they do show he was way ahead of his time, made major contributions both inside and outside the music industry, and was not just a great performer, but someone who helped lots of others behind the scenes and without fanfare or public recognition.
Killer Mike’s six-episode series, “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike,” which debuted last month, raises plenty of explosive and controversial topics and offers some intriguing and inventive solutions.
Every episode covers a specific issue, from the necessity of black investment and participation in African-American communities to whether education is being discouraged by young blacks, or whether gangs are the menace they’re portrayed by mainstream media and society.
Whether you share his perspectives, Killer Mike’s careful to explore multiple sides of every issue. While discussions range from measured evaluation to emotional outburst, every episode will leave viewers with ideas to carefully evaluate.
One episode that’s generated plenty of reaction was about the color of Christ. It offended some Christians to even ponder the issue, even though there have been many studies and books written about this question.
Another episode included the use of pornography as an educational tool, something that disturbed some feminists and fundamentalists. But the show doesn’t concern itself with either consensus or affirmation. Its aim is consciousness-raising and offering fresh, unconventional and often radical solutions to complex, long-term problems.
Those easily upset by blunt, sometimes profane language, suggestive dialogue or confrontational verbal approaches might not find “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike” to their liking, but I recommend it as a good window into 21st century political and cultural thought among the Hip-Hop generation.
Kevin Hart’s “Guide to Black History” downplays humor and emphasizes scholarship while focusing on Black History figures and accomplishments. Hart has geared this towards children and teens, but doesn’t present it in such a simplistic manner it will turn off adults.
The funny man includes a handful of jokes about people like pioneering agriculturalist George Washington Carver or world class pilot Bessie Coleman, but they are done in a fashion that won’t upset any parents watching this with their children.
It is especially good to see such names as Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who was both a Civil War hero and five-term Congressman well before it was a familiar thing for blacks to hold legislative office, or George Crum, whom many are unaware invented the potato chip.
There’s also more personal information included about the great Josephine Baker, who moved to France and was an Allied special agent during World War II. Less known is that she was very involved in the Civil Rights Movement and was the matriarch of a family that had 12 adopted children from various countries around the world.
Lately, Kevin Hart has tried to broaden and enhance his image, even as he fights to overcome the unfortunate Oscar hosting mess. “Guide to Black History” is another step in that process, and the third in a trio of topflight shows all fans and students of black heritage and culture should see and savor.