Progress

The symmetry was almost too perfect.

I was watching a moving ER episode Thursday night featuring African American actors, adults and children, telling a powerful story of suffering and humanity in Darfur. The show is produced by Warner Bros.

As I frequently do, I switched over to Turner Classic Movies during the commercials.

There I found African American actors, adults and children, telling another kind of story in the 1940s (I think) Warner Bros. picture: Green Pastures, the condescending tale of the Old Testament featuring an all-black cast handing out ten-cent cigars in heaven and negotiating how much liquor they can take aboard the ark.

TCM is running a series of films illustrating the depictions of African Americans in film, and some of them are hard to watch.

I was reminded of how far the media has from those days of unrelenting characature. There still aren't enough colors on TV, but we've come a long way, baby.

I was ready to dismiss Green Pastures for its cloying paternalism, but found myself drawn to it in spite of myself. Even imprisoned in that broad stereotype, the actors, particularly Rex Ingram as God (De Lawd, actually), brought a sweetness and dignity to the film that lifted it above its subject matter. Plus, the music was wonderful.

There was one scene when Moses realizes he can go no further and must let Joshua lead the Hebrews to the promised land. As his people pass him by, each puts a hand on his shoulder. The camera closes in on each hand as the blind Moses reaches for them, little ones and big, rough and smooth, until he reaches and there are no more hands left. Wonderful.

But the star of the night was ER, which has done the medium proud with a sweeps episode arc about the suffering in Darfur. The Peacock is doing itself proud.

By John Eggerton