Family Pictures USA, a new PBS documentary series, is the brainchild of Thomas Allen Harris, an award-winning director, producer, and photographer. Harris is passionate about exploring identity, family, and spirituality through unique audiovisual experiences that shed light on the human condition. In this three-part series, Harris travels across various American cities, towns, and villages, conducting personal interviews with the community through photo-sharing gatherings. By flipping through family photo albums, Harris unearths rich individual stories that expand our understanding of our shared past and reveal the interconnectedness of the American people. Maja Mrkoci, Chief Content and Innovation Officer, describes Family Picture USA as an ingenious and enjoyable way to develop public media community, with viewers learning from the tales of small-town villages behind every picture across American cities as reported on CPB. In a time when America is characterized by rage and division based on race, Family Pictures USA is a perfect film to watch as it unveils the rich American history and highlights the fact that America is a country built by immigrants and resilient people who can overcome any form of cruelty.
Uncovering the Power of Empowerment and Hard Work
Family Pictures USA promotes empowerment and success by showcasing the importance of hard work. In the first episode, Harris visits North Carolina, a small rural village whose economy was established in the textile industry and tobacco production. People share stories of achievements, emotional truth, and joy, such as the first person in the community to receive a college scholarship. Families share pictures of their great-grandfathers and relatives, telling stories of how they worked long hours in plantations to support their families. Harris also explores the common roots among different participants, delving into the extensive history of the people of South West Florida and Durham, and discovering how North Carolina transformed from a dusty village in Durham to a thriving city with a flourishing African American middle class.
Embracing Our Origins and Understanding Ourselves
The film emphasizes the importance of understanding one’s background and culture. North Carolina is home to the Occaneechi Band and The Saponi Nation, descendants of Indian-speaking communities whose origins can be traced to the early inhabitants of North Carolina and Virginia. The Occaneechi group re-purchased their ancestral land to serve as a heritage and cultural reminder for their children, as well as an educational gathering place for their young ones to learn about their history.
Learning from Unity and Resilience
Detroit is still known to many as America’s comeback city, with its people recognized for their determination and resilience, according to Catholic Online. In another episode, the documentary features the descendants of both slaves and Native Americans whose ancestors helped build the city. Through family pictures and stories of former slave ancestors, Harris learns about a boundary wall constructed by the United States government to separate black and white neighborhoods. The rise and fall of Detroit, one of America’s most prosperous cities during the 1960s, is vividly depicted in private nostalgic photos accompanied by tales of how people persevered and adapted through economic challenges. Touching stories and memories of the devastating consequences of the 1967 Detroit riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. are displayed in pictures of families that lost relatives during the five-day chaos. This multilayered narrative teaches us that unity is what helped Detroit recover from the impacts of the riots and re-emerge as an economically stable city.
Seeing America Through a New Lens
Family Pictures USA also focuses on a tropical region where Native Americans, livestock farmers, and members of the fishing fraternity reside. We learn that Florida is still a cattle ranching state, and Native Americans who are descendants of the Seminole people continue to preserve and pass down their way of living to their children centuries after their ancestors have passed. Harris observes that America is built on a rich foundation of hard work, resilience, empowerment, unity, and many more essential values. He aims to revitalize and stress the importance of remembering our own culture and what is common in all of us. Harris believes that once you see America through family pictures, your view of this great country will change forever, as disclosed on Family Pictures USA.
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