What saturates this series with significance is not simply the comprehensive documentation of our history, but the expertly threaded connections to modern forms of the same systemic oppression in disguise. The episodic format gives each chapter its own topic, allowing for pinpoint focus on a variety of issues, allotting each one a full hour in search of clarity and exploration.
Whether paralleling the origin of gynecology with the continued medical racism affecting Black mothers or comparing cotton-picking logbooks with Amazon’s warehouse protocols, “The 1619 Project” adheres to the principle that the consequences of Black history impact the culture of all Americans.
However, the series doesn’t deliver its content with textbook dryness or pure objectivity, and this is where Hannah-Jones’ journalistic hand is felt. Each episode of “The 1619 Project” feels like a conversation as well as a collection of personal essays. It is an educational memoir of Black America. Interviews with experts in their fields, everyday citizens, and Hannah-Jones’ own personal anecdotes and familial history give faces to issues that are often presented as headlines or papers on the desks of legislators. It brings humanity to the forefront of social problems rendered anonymous by statistics or invisible by suppression.
The value of the series’ content is undeniable, but the visuals that support the show fall significantly below expectation. With a name like Oprah Winfrey among the producers, there should’ve been space in the budget to provide imagery beyond slideshows and simple animated graphics. The series doesn’t take advantage of its visual format, and while there isn’t shame in a simple approach, the neglect to devote measurable attention to it is disappointing.
The overarching thesis of “The 1619 Project” is that an amalgam of social issues affecting all Americans are the result of institutions born and bred from the enslavement of Black people. The antiquated systems and laws put in place may have changed context, but they did not change consequence. The government and corporations alike are able to exploit old laws to affect new policy, and the show proclaims that without the knowledge of history’s origins, we will always be subject to manipulation.