Critics praise Hulu’s ‘The 1619 Project’ as ‘smartly argued,’ ‘persuasive’ and a ‘necessary watch’

On January 26, 2023, Hulu began streaming “The 1619 Project,” a six-part docuseries that expands upon Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones‘ piece in The New York Times Magazine. The series seeks to reframe our country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. 

Critics have heaped praise on the series, resulting in a 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The series, hosted by Hannah-Jones, is a Lionsgate Production in association with One Story Up Productions, Harpo Films and The New York Times. It was executive produced by Hannah-Jones, Roger Ross Williams, Caitlin Roper, Kathleen Lingo and Oprah Winfrey. The episodes focus on “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Fear,” and “Justice.” Read our review roundup below. 

SEE ‘The 1619 Project’: Red carpet interviews from Hulu premiere include Boris Kodjoe, Jalen Rose and more … [WATCH]

Dan Fienberg of the Hollywood Reporter says, “No matter how you measure it, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ ‘The 1619 Project’ was an earth-shaking thing when it premiered in The New York Times in 2019. It won a Pulitzer Prize. It sparked conversation. It generated waves of backlash from people who absolutely, positively didn’t read the full 100-page collection of essays.” He adds, “Hulu’s ‘The 1619 Project’ remains cogent, smartly argued and persuasive, but in failing to sufficiently adjust its storytelling to the visual demands and possibilities of TV, it fails to make itself essential. The premise of the series is that the arrival of the first slave ship in the colonies is a national origin story of sorts. Contrary to claims from the political right, the purpose of the series was never to literally demand that ‘1776’ be erased as a landmark, nor to make every white person feel like the villain in our collective narrative. The point is that slavery, in addition to being our American original sin, was so potent that its tendrils impacted and infected every single aspect of our national life, from policing and the justice system to our particularly brutal version of capitalism — and that failure to understand that leaves us unable to move forward except in willful ignorance.” 

Daniel D’Addario of Variety calls Hannah-Jones “both a nimble thinker and an unusually adaptable messenger.” He continues, “The show ranges widely: One compelling installment, in the middle of the series’ run, contemplates the role of music in Black American life. The episode is studded with heart-wrenching footage of blackface performers mocking Black joy, and anchored by conversations with Times critic Wesley Morris and disco pioneer Nile Rodgers.” However, not everything lands well. “At times, though, Hannah-Jones can be expansive to a fault, as when, wrapping up an episode assaying the inspiring worker-led strikes at Amazon, she claims that capitalism was ‘born on the plantation.’ There are resonances between 2020s American life and the antebellum era that deserve to be drawn out with care, but assertions that the modern economic system was not just bolstered by slavery but invented by it can grow head-spinning, stepping out farther than can be supported by the evidence Hannah-Jones has already marshaled well.” 

SEE ‘The 1619 Project’: Oprah Winfrey could win another Emmy for producing Hulu’s docu-series

Stephen Robinson of Primetimer opens with “Hulu’s ‘The 1619 Projec’t docuseries is must-see viewing, even for those who have already read the original, long-form journalism feature in The New York Times or engaged with the subsequent podcast and book. The series is more than just a straightforward adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning project from writer Nikole Hannah-Jones. It’s not just a sequel, either. It’s a well-articulated, powerful response to what has become a sociopolitical maelstrom. That’s perfectly fitting, as it’s hard to imagine the recent Republican-led bans on race-conscious history in public schools without the white conservative backlash triggered by ‘The 1619 Project’s’ publication in 2019 and the ensuing attention it received.” He expands, “Director Roger Ross Williams, who won an Academy Award for his short film ‘Music by Prudence,’ works wonders with this material. Many documentaries can become ponderous talking-head affairs with somber narration over nondescript stock footage. Williams’ direction maintains each installment’s narrative momentum, and the engaging visuals help one’s eyes stay on the screen.” 

Wayne Broadway of Black Girl Nerds writes, “It’s not that much of the information is news to me; it’s that, once it’s all packaged together in a six-hour series, enlivened by interviews and supported by countless pieces of evidence, the information becomes a burden, a reification of my knowledge of Good and Evil, with extra emphasis on the latter. In short, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ ‘The 1619 Project’ is an exquisitely informative downer, but there’s enough hope and strength throughout to make it an almost necessary watch.”

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