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Faces of America

27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

What made America? What makes us? These two questions are at the heart of the new PBS series FACES OF AMERICA. Building on the success of his series AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES (called by The New York Times the most exciting and stirring documentary on any subject to appear on television in a long time ) and AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES 2, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. turns again to the latest tools of genealogy and genetics to explore the family histories of 11 renowned Americans. Looking to the wider immigrant experience, Professor Gates unravels the American tapestry, following the threads of his guests lives back to their origins around the globe. Along the way, the many stories he uncovers of displacement and homecoming, of material success and dispossession, of assimilation and discrimination illuminate the American experience. Professor Gates guests include poet Elizabeth Alexander, who composed and read the poem at President Barack Obama s inauguration, chef Mario Batali, comedian Stephen Colbert, novelist Louise Erdrich, writer Malcolm Gladwell, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, film director Mike Nichols, Her Royal Highness Queen Noor, actress Eva Longoria, actress Meryl Streep and figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Henry Louis Gates Jr.
  • Directors: John Maggio, Leslie Asako Gladsjo, Sue Williams, Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: April 13, 2010
  • Run Time: 240 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0033XUH9A
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,048 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Steve Ramm TOP 100 REVIEWER on April 6, 2010
This four-part, four-hour series aired on PBS earlier this year. Co-executive produced and superbly by Henry Louis Gates Jr. - the Harvard professor who is one of the leading historians on African American culture and history - this show will keep you engaged from beginning to end. No, it's not a history of African Americans - though one of the 12 "well known" persons (I hate to call them celebrities) is back (poet Elizabeth Alexander).

What Gates and his team (note there is no "Director" listed on the main credits) did was find 12 folks you've probably heard of and traced their lineage back at least 4 generations - in some cases as far back as 15 generations. (One of them is a distant cousin of Charlemagne! I won't tell you which one though.) The diverse group includes skater Kristi Yamaguchi, chef Mario Batalli, comedian Stephen Colbert (you learn how his name pronounced), cellist Yo-Yo Ma (you'll learn where his name Yo-Yo came from), Director Mike Nichols, Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria (a true Tex-Mex woman as you'll see), actress Meryl Streep and even a real Queen (Queen Noor of Jordan!).

The stories are not told linearly and Gates - who not only meets with the subjects in their own home or workplace, but also travels the world - jumps back and forth. Batalli and Nichols show up in Episode One but don't come back until Episode Four. Streep seems to be in every one, as does Colbert. For much of the fourth episode the discussion turns to genealogy through DNA testing. Fascinating, but a bit more complicated than the physical research covered until that point.

Each of the subjects gets a unique surprise finding and I'll not spoil the fun for you by revealing any of them here. I found the Ma family history and Mike Nichols to be the most surprising.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By JNagarya on June 17, 2011
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I have a favorite story here -- that of Yo-Yo Ma -- but it doesn't stop there. Kristi Yamaguchi's story is also deeply moving.

And when it is revealed to Latina Tex-Mex actress Longoria that she and Yo-Yo Ma share an ancestor, she leans forward and asks about Yo-Yo Ma --

"He's Mexican!?"

Warm, and rich, it will stretch your imagination and understanding of the actual history of the US, and the complexities of the US's fabric. At the same time, this series shows that we are all more alike than different. Kudos to Professor Gates for his wonderful generosity (see his gift to Yo-Yo Ma!), which is given not only to the celebrities upon whom he focuses but to all of us.

Don't miss this!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By bernie HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2010
Henry Louis Gates Jr. selects a collection of various well-known Americans of apparently different ethnocentric origins. He researches their ancestry and deoxyribonucleic acid to find out things about the background of each person and then presents the finding to them and us.

The presentation is in four one-hour parts. Each part has the same subjects. They are just taken back further in history or a different facet of their lives. The presentation style is in sound bite form where Henry goes round robin form one person to the next and back again. This does not necessary follow any logical pattern.

However, we find this fascinating and makes one speculate about one's own origins. There are more in-depth presentations and more detailed in how they go about it. Nevertheless, this program stands well on its own.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" (2010 TV series documentary) U.S. version of the BBC series

Who Do You Think You Are? - Series 1-4 - 12-DVD Box Set ( Who Do You Think You Are? - Series One, Two, Three & Four ) ( Who Do You Think You Are?: Series 1 - 4 & How To Trace Your [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - United Kingdom ]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 2, 2014
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I first viewed this series on PBS not too long ago. Dr. Gates does a wonderful job when conducting genealogical research of his guest. I was just as surprised and fascinated as they were about their ancestry. Hopefully Dr. Gates will continue this series with not only well known people, but us regular folks. Excellent series.
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By Zarathustra on January 18, 2013
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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. searches the genealogy of twelve famous people and all are surprised by the ancestors they knew nothing about. Many of them had common ancestors.
I found the revelations fascinating.
I have a family tree of the Prescotts, my mother's relatives who came to Massachusetts from England (and I even met some of them), but I know little about my mother's father's family, who I think also came from England.
I know little about my father's parents except that my grandmother came to Missouri from Germany (I thought from Danzig, which is now Gedansk Poland), but I contacted my sister who found some relatives who will have better information. I believed that my grandfather came from Dodge City, Kansas, presumably from a Welsh family (Jones is a Welsh name). When I was a child I spent many summers with my father's parents, but I learned little about their ancestors.
I would like to trace my relatives, but I am not famous so it is unlikely that I will appear on Faces of America 2. I will have to do the work myself (maybe I'll find some American Indian or African relatives).
I have 7 DVDs and 1 blu-ray by Dr. Gates, and I have learned a lot from all of them. I have another on the way: Wonders of the African World from 2003, which runs 330 minutes. Since few Americans have studied African history in school, I know little about the subject. I did read all the books I could find in the library about the heroes of the slave revolt in Haiti when I was in middle school.
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