‘Profiled’ studies history’s myths about race, and the Black men now proving them wrong

The Discovery+ series is one of several new movie and TV projects marking Black History Month.

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Activist DeRay Mckesson (from left), radio host Sway Calloway and entertainer Billy Porter are among the commentators on “Profiled: The Black Man.”

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The premiere episode of the four-part documentary series “Profiled: The Black Man” makes a stop in Chicago, and as you might expect, there’s some discussion of violent crime in our city — but then the non-fiction storyline takes a pivot and we’re introduced to Charles Alexander, Mark Edmond and Jamel Lewis, a local trio who founded the Black Bread Co., the first Black-owned gourmet sliced bread brand.

‘Profiled: The Black Man’

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A new episode of the four-part series streams each Saturday starting Feb. 12 on Discovery+.

It’s an uplifting, positive tale about Black American men, and we see such stories prominently featured throughout “Profiled,” which is presented by Discovery+ and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, with the first of the four, one-hour episodes debuting on Saturday, Feb. 12. In straightforward, journalistically solid fashion, the documentary tackles such myths as “Black Men Are Dangerous,” “Black Men Are Absent Fathers, “Black Men Devalue Women” and “Black Men Don’t Cry,” while delivering brief historical lessons explaining how so many bigoted stereotypes are deeply rooted in long-ago politics and social mores. After that, though, we hear another inspirational story about a Black man and/or Black men who have turned their lives around, who always have contributed to society, who are building businesses, who are positive role models, who are shattering all the lazy and tired and ignorant myths about the American Black man.

Episode One of “Profiled” explores systematic racism in America with some brief historical context before we’re in present times, reminded that the murder of George Floyd and the infamous encounter in Central Park between the bird watcher and the hysterical dog-walker (“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life!”) occurred ON THE SAME DAY, illustrating how racially infused encounters can range from the almost farcical to the shocking and fatal and tragic.

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“Profiled” includes the story of Chicago’s Black Bread Co., founded by Mark Edmond (from left), Jamel Lewis and Charles Alexander.

The Black Bread Co.

“Profiled” also does an excellent job of balancing research, history and insightful anecdotal information. At one point, we’re told of a study in which folks were shown photographs of a Black individual and a white person side by side. The subjects in the photos were the exact same height and weight — yet the majority of respondents, including Black people, found the Black photo subjects more threatening and physically intimidating. Other moments have an impact beyond numbers, e.g., when we hear from Brian Bentley, a former LAPD officer who says, “I would get pulled over by Culver City Police Dept. at least three times a month,” as he drove home from work.

Featuring commentary and insights from an impressive array of notable figures, including civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, hip-hop icon Sway Calloway, multi-hyphenate entertainer Billy Porter and activist Tamika Mallory, to name just a few, “Profiled” takes a look at the portrayal of Black men on TV and in particular crime shows, noting that only 9% of writers on TV crime shows in 2017-18 were Black. The entertainer Affion Crockett also notes, “We contribute to our own stereotypes through the entertainment we put out into the world …”

Much of this is not new, of course; we know our history and we know the long-term ramifications of our history, and how it continues to impact Black men. “Profiled” does a fine job of once again outlining the history and reminding us of how far we have to go — but what sets this series apart are those positive stories, as when we get to know Leon Ford of Pittsburgh, who was left paralyzed in 2012 when a police officer shot him five times in a case of mistaken identity. Ford refused to let his pain and anger consume him and became a community activist, author and public speaker “working to change the narrative,” as he puts it. “I’m committed to adding value to the world and solving problems,” says Ford, and that’s worth profiling.

MORE BLACK HISTORY

Here are five other new programs focusing on historical subjects this month.

  • “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America,” now in theaters: Archival footage augments a lecture by lawyer Jeffery Robinson surveying the nation’s racial history.
  • “Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands,” 9 p.m. Tuesday, WTTW-Channel 11: “American Masters” profiles the trailblazing opera singer.
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Marian Anderson sings at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.

Courtesy of World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

  • “everything’s gonna be all white,” 7 p.m. Friday, Showtime: A three-part documentary digs into the root causes of racial inequities in this country.
  • “Black Patriots: Heroes of the Civil War,” 10 p.m. Feb. 21, History: Kareem Abbul-Jabbar produces and hosts an overview of the war’s key African American figures.
  • “Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches,” 8 p.m. Feb. 23, HBO: Actors including Jonathan Majors and Jeffrey Wright perform the anti-slavery activist’s words.

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