Review of Latino civil rights on TV

TV explores new black overclass, Latino civil rights
BALTIMORE SUN

This week's picks for TV programs that make us smarter feature an eye-opening PBS documentary on a 1954 Supreme Court case that redefined Mexican-America civil rights and a timely CNBC look at what correspondent Lee Hawkins sees as a new African-American overclass.

Most educated Americans know about Brown vs. Board of Education and where it stands in the history of African-American civil rights. But what do you know about Hernandez vs.Texas, a landmark case that radically altered Mexican-American identity and legal standing in the United States?

A Class Apart, part of the celebrated American Experience franchise, offers a look at the case that many Latinos think of as their Brown. At issue was the question of whether or not a Mexican-American could receive a fair trial in Texas courts where the juries were all-Anglo. The irony: Since Mexican-Americans were technically considered "white" under the law, there did not seem to be any chance to overturn the system that denied them the right to be judged by a jury of their peers.

The producers wisely tell the story through the personal lives of the legal team, and they are engaging stories to be sure. Gus Garza, the San Antonio attorney who played the same kind of role Thurgood Marshall did in Brown, was brilliant, handsome and a drunk. But he rallied when he came before the court -- once his colleagues sobered him up.

Pay special attention to the photography. It was done by Allen Moore, a Baltimore resident and longtime cinematographer for Ken Burns, who teaches at Maryland Institute Collge of Art. Great work once again from Moore.

Maryland residents who want to see the documentary tonight at 9, however, will once again have to watch on Washington's WETA (Channel 26). Guess who isn't carrying it? You got it, MPT (Channel 22) has taken a pass on another outstanding work of non-fiction TV.

Thursday at 9 p.m. comes Newbos: The Rise of America's New Black Overclass. It airs on CNBC. You know CNBC -- that's the financial news channel that recklessly lets correspondents like Rick Santelli deliver hotdog on-air rants rather than provide viewers with solid information in this time of economic crisis.

Correspondent Lee Hawkins, who is also a Wall Street Journal reporter and author of a soon-to-be-released book on the subject of this new class of wealthy Africvan-Americans, seems to be a serious-minded journalist, though, he does go incredibly soft in some of his interviews, like the one with Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Hawkins never really does lay out a thesis about the new class of African-American wealth. Instead the report mainly consists of interviews with the likes NBA star LeBron James, gospel artist Kirk Franklin and the Williams Brothers of Cash Money Records who he identifies as members of that class.

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