‘Soul of a Nation’ takes close look at Black life in America

Rick's Reviews

Sterling K. Brown is the guest host for the new ABC newsmagazine series “Soul of a Nation.” (Photo courtesy of ABC)

(KGET) — ABC News executives want to show exactly how much Black lives matter to them. The latest clue comes with the launch of “Soul of a Nation,” a six-part newsmagazine series that shines a spotlight on Black life in America. The first episode airs at 10 p.m. March 2 on ABC with “This Is Us” star Sterling K. Brown as the guest host.

The series will present viewers with a look at Black life across the country through interviews with athletes, entertainers, performers and screenwriters. Each episode will explore a specific theme, including spirituality, Black joy, activism in sports and the racial reckoning that erupted after George Floyd’s death. A special performance featuring some of the nation’s top musicians or spoken word artists will close out each show.

Marie Nelson, series creator and SVP of Integrated Content Strategy for ABC News, describes the new program as offering a look at Black life in America unlike anything done on television before.

“It’s a journey through Black storytelling, from the secrets of the Tulsa Massacre to a big Alabama family descended from a single slave, to Afrofuturism and the joy that has sustained and defined Blackness and so much more,” Nelson says. “We know Black America is not a monolith.  Honest, open, emotional, both joyful and painful conversations and stories from boldfaced names and everyday Black Americans enrich the storytelling and perspectives found in the series.

“This is a series by Black people for all people.  We believe America will listen and gain understanding from these voices and their experiences.”

Eric Johnson, an executive producer with “Soul of a Nation” adds that while the show was being put together, he wanted his mother, brother and aunts to see themselves reflected in the stories being told.

The mirror being held up in the opening episode includes interviews with actor and reparations activist Danny Glover, EGOT winner, producer and social activist John Legend and U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, one of the many officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. Legend will also perform.

Johnson stresses that the show also is designed to be a reflection of everyone.

“We also want everybody to know that they can find themselves too in Black storytelling,” Johnson says. “Black stories are not just for Black people, and it’s not something that we just started doing with ‘Soul of a Nation.’ We want everybody that watches this to take something away and feel like they can relate to a reparations story or that they can relate when we go back to Tulsa, which is essentially an incredibly long true-crime story.

“We want people to be able to connect to that.  And so that’s the goal of the series.  Yes, we hope that Black people tune in in big numbers, but we hope that these stories resonate with everybody and honestly.”

Executive producer Robe Imbriano prefers to look at the series as featuring stories that are “profoundly American.”

“Soul of a Nation” is the latest original programming from ABC News which has a renewed focus on telling diverse stories across the news division. Previous programming includes:“Juneteenth: A Celebration of Overcoming”; “Pandemic – A Nation Divided” on the disparity in race and class amid the pandemic; “America in Pain: What Comes Next?” on the protests and outrage across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd and police brutality and systemic racism against Black Americans; and “America’s Future: The Power of the Latino Vote.”

Because the program comes from the ABC news division, there is the ability to throw out planned interviews if there is a breaking news story that should be addressed. That actually happened with the initial episode as the interview with U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn did not happen until the last minute. Changes were made to the program to accommodate that story.

The wide diversity of programming ABC news has been doing is necessary because those involved know that Americans represent a wide spectrum of ideas and values. That starts with taking as broad a look at the subject matter as possible.

Imbriano says. “We’re actually looking to be as expansive as we possibly can.  And that involves the political spectrum.  It also involves age.  We are looking at Afrofuturism.  We have a group of 20‑year‑olds, 20‑somethings who have come in with a real drive to tell stories of their generation.

“And we’re trying to make space for that and for the kind of stories that we don’t normally get to tell on network TV.  So we’re wide open.  And the hope is that we can show that we’re not a monolith, episode after episode.”

If you miss the live telecast, episodes also can be viewed the next day on demand and on the streaming service Hulu.

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