Danielle Brooks became wholly intrigued with “AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange” after seeing its list of alumni hosts, some of whom are not only her peers but also her friends. She was approached by the producers of the iconic TV program just about a year ago and asked if she would host this year’s installment. “I hadn’t heard of ‘AfroPop’ before,” she explained, “but I got really excited when I saw the list of prior hosts and I wanted to learn more. Nikki Beharie, Gabourey Sidibe, Jussie Smollett, Nick Ash are all friends of mine. I figured if they were involved, it was something definitely worth looking into.” Brooks, perhaps most known for her illustrious turn as the character Taystee on the cultural behemoth that was “Orange Is the New Black,” indeed did her research and her level of excitement about the series increased exponentially. She related, “I was like, ‘Wow!’ I cannot believe this is the first time I’m being introduced to this because it is absolutely incredible what they’re doing. They’re educating people on Black culture with short films and documentaries that have been directed by us and are for us. The stories take us from South Carolina all the way to Ghana. Once I knew more I was on board ASAP.”
“AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange,” which will run Mondays at 8 p.m. from Jan. 21 through Feb. 18 on WORLD Channel, is public television’s only documentary series focused on telling stories about life, art and culture where they intersect with the global Black experience. This season opens with director Mika Kaurismäki’s look at the life and legacy of legendary South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba. There will also be a documentary on work being done to continue the healing in Rwanda and cope with the continuing impact of its 1990 to 1994 civil war, as well as a fascinating collection of short films that cover topics from LGBTQ to men’s fashion in South Africa.
The graduate of the esteemed South Carolina Governor’s School of Arts and Humanities as well as Juilliard, who also has the film “Clemency” coming out this year, doesn’t exactly think of herself as a cultural ambassador but said, “I am very proud to be the person highlighting and being the face of our culture. I’m glad to be making people who aren’t aware understand just how wildly unique we are as Black people and how that should be celebrated.”
“Orange Is the New Black” was instrumental in bringing complex LGBTQ characters into the nation’s living rooms and “AfroPop” doesn’t shy away from such programming either. Because of pervasive homophobia in certain countries outside of the United States, it is quite significant that “AfroPop” has chosen to include LGBTQ programming. Brooks asserted, “It’s so important to highlight things that make our community uncomfortable because it shouldn’t make our community uncomfortable. We shouldn’t isolate people just because we don’t agree with the way they live their lives. I feel we should spend more time getting to understand every community but especially the LGBT community. They’re a part of us, we’re a whole. You need all the body parts to function. We have to make sure we’re operating out of love and that we’re supporting each other.”
One of the most anticipated films from this year’s “AfroPop” is the documentary “While I Breathe, I Hope” which follows Bakari Sellers (now a political commentator on CNN) during his campaign for lieutenant governor of South Carolina as a young Black Democrat in a traditionally red state. As a young woman who grew up in South Carolina and someone who cares deeply about the issues raised in it, Brooks was particularly drawn to “While I Breathe, I Hope.” She explained, “It resonated with me because in South Carolina we’ve been so stagnant for a while when it comes to politics. It’s been a solidly Republican state. I was excited by Bakari Sellers because we both understand the sacrifices the people who came before us have made in order to achieve equality, so I think we both understand this huge responsibility to work to make it better for the generation now and for the next generation.”