“The Two Towns of Jasper,” an excellent documentary on the impact of the racist murder of James Byrd, Jr. on a small town in Texas, should and will reach a large audience when it airs as part of “POV” on PBS at 9 p.m. Wednesday (check local listings).
It is getting a lot of attention, much of it from ABC. “Oprah” which mostly airs on ABC affiliates is devoting today’s show to the documentary. It is also the focus of “Nightline” tonight. On Thursday, “POV” will be showing a 90 minute town meeting at 9 p.m. (check local listings) with residents of Jasper moderated by Ted Koppel. “Nightline” will air an hour of the meeting that evening.
While there probably isn’t a huge overlap between the audience of “Nightline” and “The Bachelorette” (which is on at the same time as “Two Towns of Jasper”), there will be at least some with Orpah’s. And hopefully some of them will take a break from finding out who Trista will find true love with to look at race in America.
The only other place besides PBS that “Two Towns of Jasper” might have been shown is HBO. It is unlikely it would have been made for or shown uncut on ABC, any of the other commercial broadcast networks, or even cable.
For most of 1999, during the trials of three men for the murder of Byrd, a black crew followed the black residents of Jasper and a white crew followed the white residents. It is unlikely a network news division would have devoted the resources to shoot for a year or agree to what might have been a controversial method to make the documentary.
And it is a 90 minute documentary without interruption. People are given time to speak. There are pauses and silence. When they use the language that people actually use, it isn’t bleeped (which actually calls more attention to the words than when it isn’t censored). We have the time to get to know people and see them change over a year.
It is also interesting to see this documentary so soon after “The Murder of Emmett Till.” A racist murder can still happen, but the judicial system has changed (not enough, but it is still much better).
It is good that there are so many chances for dialogue about the film whether it be on “Oprah,” at the town meeting, and hopefully among viewers. They are also doing a community outreach campaign with Working Films which also did “Blue Vinyl.”
Filmmakers Whitney Dow and Marco Williams were interviewed on NPR.