We’ve lost a great film historian; Carson’s slave/immigrant comment wasn’t his only head-scratcher; A good time for WGN’s Underground

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Like millions of others, I was saddened yesterday by the loss of Robert Osborne. If you are a fan of Turner Classic Movies, you have seen him on the network doing interviews with film legends, discussing the “essential” films with famous actors and actresses, and especially introducing the prime time broadcasts of classic movies each evening. If you’ve read many of my postings, you know that I am a professional US historian, but I also kind of fancy myself an amateur film historian/buff. Listening to Osborne’s comments and introductions to films was always a history lesson/lecture in itself, as his knowledge was deep and encyclopedic. In fact, my only complaint about TCM is that not every movie is accompanied by an introduction and conclusion by Osborne. He was also a published author, and penned short essays each month in the the TCM viewers guide. In everything he did, he provided deep and cogent historical context, enlightening and entertaining anecdotes, and thoughtful analysis. And he did it all with remarkable brevity and considerable charm. Man, if I could only teach like that. I’ll still watch my classic old films, and I am sure TCM will hire a suitable new prime time host (my guess is that Ben Mankiewicz’s presence will increase, and that is just fine with me, as he is a treasure himself), but the movies will never be the same without Robert Osborne’s presence in my living room offering up nightly film history lessons.

Good to see that TCM just released information about 48 hours of programming this weekend in honor of Osborne, featuring many of his best interviews with Hollywood legends (appropriately including Debbie Reynolds).

As you know, Ben Carson has taken major heat for his reference to slaves as “immigrants.” He clarified his comments, but this is not the first time that he has called slaves “immigrants,” in fact, he has a history of it. Look, I think the man knows the difference between slaves and immigrants, but the bigger point he makes about the “dreams” of both the slaves and the immigrants is what he doesn’t seem to understand is problematic. When he makes these comments, he’s implying that Africans forcefully brought to America benefited from it in the same way that immigrants did. It is THAT equivalency that is problematic, Mr Carson.  But I found other comments he made about immigrants to be ironic, and no one else seems to be commenting on it. When discussing what immigrants had to endure, he talked about extremely long work hours, and incredibly low wages. I wonder if he or any of the other “movement conservatives,” would ever point out that it was progressive legislation that curbed those problems. I’m doubtful.

Carson’s comments are also another reminder that WGN’s Underground series is starting its second season with perfect timing. The premiere is Wednesday night. With Mercy Street having just ended (my review of the last episode is forthcoming, as is my commentary on the whole season for the Journal of the Civil War Era’s blog), it is good that our TVs will continue to have a refutation of the Lost Cause on each week. And with “nevertheless, she persisted” the current feminist motto, it seems like a great time for a depiction of Harriet Tubman. Further, in the Trump age it’ll be good to see reminders of the moral necessity of resistance to governmental injustice and the role it has played in our history. And in a time of travel bans and sanctuary cities, lessons involving the Fugitive Slave Law and the Underground Railroad’s safe houses seems especially timely. The show’s cast has been active lately in pushing back at those that decry more depictions of slavery, but I think the most important thing about this show is that it is about slave resistance. The first season was good at revealing that this resistance came in different forms, so I’m hopeful that it will continue to do so. We will be watching. Now if we could make sure Ben Carson will be too.

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