MPT focuses on black men

February 19, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It may not be one of Maryland Public Television's most expensive national productions, but "Black Men: Uncertain Futures" is one of its most impressive this year.

The report, which airs at 10 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), is ambitious, thoughtful and manages to plow new ground on a topic that has been much discussed and reported elsewhere around the television dial.

MPT's treatment could use a more tightly focused thesis. But the topic is a large one, and the producers clearly had a lot to say in one hour.

The general premise is that America is in danger of losing a generation of black men to early death, jail or a life of despair. We will all be diminished by that loss, the show tells us.

That thesis is not new. But Everett L. Marshburn and John Grassie, the producers, come at it in many new ways. For one thing, they start with a tough look at the media, especially television. They take apart images of black men on television in TC way that critics in other media seldom do.

The producers and host Noah Nelson raise the issue of how videotape of black men being arrested is often shown as visual wallpaper in connection with any crime story on local television news. They ask experts on image and race what effect such repeated images might have on viewers.

The answers -- lower self-esteem for black viewers and a misconception among some whites that blacks are violent and responsible for our cities' crime problems -- are ones we all need to hear and think about. The television news industry's defense of the practice -- that they only show what law enforcement officials provide -- is a weak one.

The report could be more hard-nosed, in some cases, challenging facts and experts. It could also have been more enterprising in finding the kind of visual images that would make viewers remember what was being said with their hearts as well as their minds.

But, overall, "Black Men: Uncertain Futures" is MPT delivering top-notch public affairs programming from Maryland to the rest of the nation.

A one-hour discussion of the issue, with a chance for viewers to phone in questions and comments, will follow at 11 on MPT.

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