BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The heart of the new Onyx series, “The 1619 Project,” for Nikole Hannah-Jones is very simple. The host of the six-part series that debuts Jan. 26 on the streaming service Hulu sees the production as simply the story of America.

“Our argument is that you can’t understand the story of America without understanding the story of slavery and Black Americans,” Hannah-Jones says. “So I think it’s really important that when we set the tone for what this documentary series is, that this is not a documentary series about Black people.  It’s a documentary series about America.

“And all of us Americans should come away with a better understanding of the country that we live in.”

“The 1619 Project” is an expansion of “The 1619 Project” created by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine. The work looks to reframe the country’s history by placing the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative.

Hannah-Jones knew working on the project would mean a lengthy examination of suffering because it was necessary to catalogue all of the atrocities committed against Black people and to look at the barbarism that Black Americans faced.

“It was really important to me that we also showed that throughout everything that Black Americans were enduring; we are creating; we were loving; we were really building the truest original forms of American culture,” Hannah-Jones says. “I did want to give not just a break to the person taking it in, but for Black people who were also experiencing this project, to be able to say, ‘All of our life has not been suffering.’  So that is important.”

Each episode ― “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Fear” and “Justice” ― has been adapted from essays from The New York Times bestselling “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story.” Basing a television series on a series of essays comes with some very distinct problems. The challenge for the production team was to find a way to maintain the original context of the printed work by Hannah-Jones while taking advantage of the visual elements television provides.

Executive producer Shoshana Guy says, “We have the benefit of listening to people and seeing their emotion on the screen.  And, of course, we have the visual benefit.”

The work of creating the television version fell chiefly to Roger Ross Williams as the director. He came to the project as the first African American director to win an Academy Award with his short film “Music by Prudence.” It was named the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film in 2009.

Before filming started, Williams read the essays. He recalls being surprised by how much the essay on democracy gave him a new perspective. The filmmaker was certain he knew what democracy was all about but the work by Hannah-Jones showed him he did not know the entire story.

Williams took the approach with “The 1619 Project” of focusing on people who have dealt with in their own lives with the issues addressed in the essays.

“So you meet and you follow these characters, and we’re actually following them as they’re going through things and their lives are changing and they’re making decisions and the effects that that has on them,” Williams says. “So that’s something that is just amazing to see. We get that in the documentary filmmaking.”

The fact that “The 1619 Project” argues America was founded on slavery before 1776 has not been embraced by everyone. The work has faced bans and attempted bans in at least 14 states since its publication in 2019.

Hannah-Jones puts a positive spin on the backlash to her work by seeing it as being indicative of why the project had to exist in the first place. She sees all of the negative reactions as a sign of success.

“We’ve all been indoctrinated into these myths about America and we’ve all been told a history that’s not true. So part of the backlash, I think, is people are just really surprised by what we argue in the project and there are certain Americans who think, if this were true, certainly I would have heard about it before,” Hannah-Jones says. “I think there is a backlash that comes from the skepticism or being kind of thrown off kilter by learning a history that you hadn’t been taught.

“And then, of course, there’s the backlash that is strictly political, which is this project exposes power, exposes hierarchy, exposes that we were founded on lofty ideals of democracy and freedom and also the practice of slavery and what does that mean for the country that we live in today.”

The production fits perfectly under the Onyx Collective umbrella, Disney’s newest brand. It is designed to empower underrepresented artists and artists of color to tell stories and rally a global audience.

The first two episodes of “The 1619 Project” will debut exclusively on Hulu on Jan. 26 with two new episodes being released each week after the launch.