September 27, 2010

When Worlds Collide - Premiering Tonight on PBS

Boy, I sure don't feel like celebrating Columbus Day this year (not that I ever have; how does one do so anyway?). In fact, after seeing When Worlds Collide: The Untold Story of the Americas After Columbus, I almost feel like joining the movement against formal recognition of the holiday. This is not the film's purpose, but it's difficult to objectively consider the ramifications of Columbus' invasion (not quite a discovery) of the Americas when you learn about the millions of indigenous people who were killed and enslaved for "God" and the Spanish crown.

Narrated by author and journalist Ruben Martinez, the film richly chronicles the history of Latin America in a series of chapters that outline how the clash of European and American cultures influenced generations of mestizos up to the present day. It is indeed an "untold story", and as Martinez explains at the end of the film, the global community should by now be ready to discuss the history of this part of the world and the tragic consequences of the Spanish conquest.

It is perhaps an uncomfortable reality to acknowledge, but this historical perspective is vital for understanding ethnic identities and international relations in 2010. You might never look at Spain the same way again (or really any country that based its economy and empire on the exploitation and enslavement of Indigenous Americans), but then the best documentaries are the ones that open the eyes of viewers to new realities.

Indeed, although When Worlds Collide has its flaws (and I found Martinez' narration rather awkwardly staged throughout), a wide-ranging documentary like this is inherently limited by the scope allowed in 90 minutes of airtime. What it should do, and what it succeeds in doing, is planting a seed of interest in the minds of viewers and encouraging them to continue their own discovery and dialogue afterward. The film's website is particularly user-friendly (I like this Old World vs. New World timeline), and I really hope educators take advantage of the downloadable lesson plans, because this is the kind of material that is inexcusably absent from American classrooms - especially those that include Columbus Day on the chalkboard calendar.

When Worlds Collide premieres tonight, Sept. 27, on PBS
Click here for local listings and future air dates

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