Soul of a Nation
By Marina Gordon,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Raw but uplifting series on Black life, culture in America.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
In a limited series described as "By Black people, for all people," the six episodes explore themes including spirituality, Black joy, activism in sports, and the racial reckoning the nation faced after George Floyd’s death. Well-known artists, activists, and news personalities gather for a conversation about current events in each episode, a good primer on how difficult topics can be discussed civilly.
This celebration of Black lives is full of positive messages about courage, tenacity, trailblazing, and innovating in the face of enormous cultural and structural obstacles.
Positive Role Models
The series is wall-to-wall positive role models -- from activists to performers to journalists to the newsmakers interviewed.
Violence & Scariness
Black Capitol police officer Harry Dunn remembers his experience on Jan. 6, 2021 against images and videos of violence from the day. He describes how he was verbally attacked and called the "N" word repeatedly. ABC correspondent Pierre Thomas points out, "The word is a weapon. It's a weapon to inflict psychological damage, it's a word to inflict physical damage."
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The "N" word is used many times when a Capitol officer describes the Jan. 6, 2021 riot in Washington, D.C. The words "ass" and "hell" are also heard.
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Products & Purchases
Youth culture is featured and includes TikTok and YouTube stars and features a segment on sneaker culture.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Soul of a Nation is a six-episode ABC News series that focuses exclusively on the Black American experience in an unusual format that mixes news features, discussion, and performance. It features the network's Black correspondents and actors (e.g., Sterling K. Brown from This Is Us and Marsai Martin from Black-ish each host an episode) and such popular performers as John Legend, Common, and H.E.R. At the beginning of the first episode, we see the insurrectionist violence of Jan. 6, 2021, as a Black officer on duty at the Capitol remembers the pain of being called the "N" word dozens of times by people who claimed to support the police. The show will encourage family discussions on such topics as reparations, the racist depictions of Black Americans in the movies, and the challenges of being a Black patriot.
Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
Soul of a Nation
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What's the Story?
SOUL OF A NATION is an unusual news-variety show that blends journalism, performances, and real talk in a conversation segment called "In the Kitchen." Described as "By Black people for all people," the series begins with a spoken word performance from Common that frames the show; he rhymes, in part, "The truth we speak to power is even louder / We can say it blacker, we can say it prouder / A woman Vice President that went to Howard."
The first segment in the kick-off episode focuses on a Black Capitol Police officer who was on duty during the Jan. 6, 2021 riot. Against the too-familiar images of rioters, his emotional reaction to being called the "N" word repeatedly remains raw. An interview with singer John Legend reveals that he planned his course of blending activism and a singing career from his teens. One segment examines Evanston, Illinois, the first locality in the country to fund a plan to distribute reparations to its Black residents. Another briefly reviews the racist depictions of Black Americans in early movies but spends a lot more time showing how vital the emergence of Black-helmed movies (e.g., Black Panther, Get Out, Girls Trip) has been. Later episodes focus on spirituality, Black joy, activism in sports, and more.
Is It Any Good?
This exploration and celebration of the Black American experience -- both in history and in 2021 -- feels nourishing and welcome, like a time capsule that viewers won't want to open just once. Over six episodes the series delves into current events, contextualizes pop culture and entertainment trends, and showcases such popular performers as John Legend and H.E.R. It's the brainchild of Marie Nelson, an ABC executive who remembers when it was rare to see a Black person on television, much less when they could honestly tell their own stories. The show strikes a good balance of tackling tough issues (reparations, racism) and digging into lighter fare (e.g., sneaker culture).
Soul of a Nation draws from many branches of the ABC/Disney "family": ABC News, ABC Entertainment, and ESPN are represented in the first episode. The corporate synergy on display here can feel a little forced -- for example in "In the Kitchen" (which takes place in a living room-like set, oddly), where The View host Sunny Hostin engages actors and activists alike to share their experiences. Overall though, Soul of a Nation is high-profile opportunity for ABC News to showcase its Black correspondents, cover important stories in some depth, and give all viewers food for thought and entertainment on the same plate.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the relationship between popular culture and lived experiences. How does Soul of the Nation link news stories with songs and movies?
Does including favorite actors like Marsai Martin in discussions of real-life stories change your perception of the events that transpired? How does it affect your reactions to the stories?
Are there any topics mentioned here that you want to investigate more deeply? Where would you find trustworthy information about reparations, for example?
- Premiere date: March 2, 2021
- Cast: Sterling K. Brown, John Legend, Marsai Martin
- Network: ABC
- Genre: Reality TV
- Topics: Activism
- TV rating: TV-PG
- Last updated: February 28, 2022
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Where to Watch
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