Beginning on the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved African people arriving at the colony of Virginia in 1619, “The 1619 Project” is a New York Times publication started by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting Nikole Hannah-Jones. With its associated docuseries premiering on Hulu on Jan. 6 and wrapping up on Feb. 9, “The 1619 Project’’ is dedicated to reframing the way that the history of the United States is taught in order to better represent the importance of the Black experience in American history.
Although the project has generally been received quite positively, it has received criticism from some historians for misrepresenting certain historical facts. In particular, the project made the assertion that preserving the institution of slavery was an essential motivation for the beginning of the American Revolution. A group of historians wrote a letter to the New York Times expressing their concerns with this assertion, claiming that it is unsupported by evidence.
The New York Times responded to this, supporting the validity of the details of the original article, but admitting that the language used could be interpreted as presenting the motivations of the revolutionary colonists as a monolith rather than the extremely diverse group that they were.
The article that was criticized was updated with wording that more closely aligns with this message. As such, “The 1619 Project” has responded to constructive criticism and discussions of the content presented generally with support, emphasizing that debate and revision are essential components of projects such as “The 1619 Project” that are based within historical inquiry.
The project was also famously targeted by Donald Trump during his presidency after he threatened to remove federal funding from any schools that implemented the history curriculum that was developed by “The 1619 Project.” Conversely, the Biden administration has publicly supported the curriculum developed by the project.
The breadth of the project spans many mediums including articles, podcasts, events and an educational curriculum. The latest addition to the list is the docuseries of the same name which was released on Hulu. The series is made up of six episodes, “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Fear” and “Justice” being released in pairs on a weekly basis.
Each episode focuses on a specific facet of the history of Black Americans that goes untold in the country’s history curriculum. Particularly, the series served as a sort of visual representation of the original essays from the original New York Times publication of the project.
The first episode delves into the fight for voting rights, the second on the construction of race for the political justification of oppression and the third focuses on how central Black Americans’ art is to the history of American music. The third episode especially faced criticism: “the hour titled ‘Music’ could have easily been three hours or omitted,” CNN wrote in reference to how the thematic content of that particular episode was hard to place alongside the rest of the series.
The fourth episode focuses on how capitalism perpetuates an unequal economic system; the fifth focuses on how fear is used to suppress Black voices and the sixth focuses on “historical injustices that denied Black Americans the opportunity to build generational wealth and what is owed to descendants of slavery,” according to Hulu.
The series has already been met with critical acclaim, achieving a 93% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning 93% of critics rated the series positively. Critics and audiences alike praise the show for telling the truth about a side of American history that is rarely highlighted at such a scale.
The series has been lauded for its presentation of educational information in a format that is not as impersonal as a textbook or traditional documentary. The personality and emotion that Hannah-Jones brought to the series is a significant part of what makes the series effective in its goal of making the audience care about the subject matter to the same degree that the production team feels.
Hannah-Jones’ style of journalism focuses on highlighting the faces behind stories and bringing them to the forefront, elevating the power of the message of the docuseries and the project as a whole. “The 1619 Project, it’s not a history,” said Hannah-Jones in the trailer for the series, summarizing its purpose. “It really is talking about America today. Black Americans’ contributions are undeniable: no people have a greater claim to the American flag than we do.”