Black History Month has gotten off to a rocky start this year, and white people fully deserve the blame. Between Virginia hosting not one, but two politicians who have donned blackface, and Liam Neeson openly admitting to once seeking to kill a black man, white ignorance has threatened to overshadow the already too short month in the year that celebrates African American contributions to this country. Thankfully, at least one white person is aiming to correct the imbalance. “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” will release a Black History Month segment peppered with equal amounts laughs and facts, which IndieWire is debuting exclusively.
Titled “Great Moments in Black History,” the segment is told from a clueless white person’s perspective. As a disembodied voice (segment producer Adam Howard) asks ridiculous questions from behind the camera, the best and brightest black comedians and political commentators patiently school the dweeb, who clearly represents collective white nonsense. The segment features legendary comedian George Wallace, The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, as well as writers Jamilah Lemieux, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Mychal Denzel Smith, and activist Walter Naegle.
“Everyone we asked to be a part of this piece is someone I’ve followed, admired, and enjoyed for a long time,” segment producer Halcyon Person told IndieWire in an email. “They’re all folks who write thoughtfully about race, history, and politics… Basically, they’re people way, way smarter than me that have always had brilliant things to say about how our country learns its history.”
The segment highlights the mischaracterization of Rosa Parks as a timid woman who simply was tired that day, charting her radical feminist organizing which took place long before she launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. “Rosa was not a tired lady on a bus,” explains Lemieux. “She was a freedom fighter, she was a liberator, she was a badass.” As Cobb explains, Parks investigated sexual assaults committed against black women in the South before any legal protections existed.
Worse than simply being mischaracterized, the legacy of openly gay March on Washington head organizer Bayard Rustin has nearly been erased, although a handful of recent documentaries have sought to correct that egregious oversight. “Bayard Rustin is almost criminally under-recognized,” Cobb says in the piece. As its sole white person, “Full Frontal” interviewed the civil rights leader’s former partner, Walter Naegle. Naegle and Rustin’s loving relationship was recently detailed in Matt Wolf’s excellent short film “Bayard & Me.”
“I have appreciated the opportunity to make things that deal head-on with matters of race under a boss like Sam [Bee],” said Person. “She is an incredibly thoughtful guide who’s built a diverse and inclusive team of people who are always looking for ways to tell stories that crack open preconceptions to share more varied perspectives.”
Check out IndieWire’s exclusive sneak peek at this stacked “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” segment below.