Actor David Harewood takes us on a journey across America to meet his heroes, and discover some of the true stories behind the incredible artists who shaped his life and changed the world.
Along the way he discovers how African American performers, filmmakers and writers came to transform popular culture around the world. In episode one, singer-songwriter and producer Smokey Robinson recalls how the Motown record label grew from humble beginnings to give Black artists a prominence they’d never had before, as Motown creator Berry Gordy turned the sound of Black America into the sound of young America.
Turning to US cinema, David follows the story of actor Sidney Poitier, who inspired his own choice of career, using his box-office power to the change the script for In The Heat Of The Night to enable his character Virgil Tibbs to make a stand against southern racism. Poitier’s co-star, Lee Grant, talks about the electric moment it created, and how people on the film set reacted with shock.
Bond Girl Gloria Hendry shares her memories of starring in the Blaxploitation films that redefined the movie business in the 70s, as US cinema embraced Black cinema and creatives.
Turning to the small screen, David meets fellow actor John Amos, who played Kunta Kinte in Roots, the groundbreaking TV series which told the story of a teenager captured the Gambia and sold into slavery in America. An estimated 130 million Americans tuned in to the 1977 finale as the country reckoned with its past.
Finally, David turns the spotlight on Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Released to a global audience in 1983, with a massive budget and an A-list director, John Landis, it changed the trajectory of pop music. Ola Ray, who played Jackson’s girlfriend in the Thriller video, goes back to the cinema where it was shot, and David gets dancing tips from the man who taught Jackson the Moonwalk, Shalamar’s Jeffrey Daniel.
Get On Up: The Triumph of Black America airs w/c 27th March on BBC Two.