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PBS' 'AfroPoP' series inspires with stories from the Diaspora

Talia Whyte | 11/11/2009, 6:37 a.m.

The international interest in President Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House has highlighted the conversation about cultural ties within the African Diaspora.

The second season of the PBS series AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange, which premieres this Sunday, November 15 at 7pm on WGBH 44, takes a deeper look at contemporary black life around the world.

This season comes back with a new host – Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose, who recently made history by being cast as the first-ever black princess in Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” But it’s the heart-felt stories in the films that will captivate an audience.

 “The Fighting Spirit” is the premiering film and tells the story of three boxers from Bukom, a district in Ghana’s capital city of Accra that is celebrated for its boxing tradition. George Amponsah, the film’s director, is a distant relative to Azumah “The Professor” Nelson, three-time lightweight world champion and the most celebrated boxer to come out of Bukom.

The film follows the three boxers as they compete for prizes in Europe and America. Yarkor, a female fighter, faces the harsh realities of the boxing business while navigating the expectations for an African woman in her village.

“Women boxers are not at all common in Ghana or Africa as a whole,” said Amponsah. “In Ghana there is generally a jaundiced view of women fighters much the same as there is in Britain.”

Nonetheless, for Amponsah, there were moments of surprise while filming. He said that while it seemed like Yarkor was taken as seriously as her colleagues, she still faced barriers.

“It has to be mentioned that when I arrived [in Bukom], she still hadn’t been granted a boxing license by the Ghana Boxing Authority and she was being offered fights abroad for [money], which really speaks for itself,” he continued.

While Yarkor had her struggles, Sylvia Dorsey found inspiration in Ghana. In the film “Black To Our Roots,” the then 17-year-old journeys to Ghana to not only escape violence and poverty in her Atlanta neighborhood, but also challenge her understanding of being black.

“The Ghana trip was life changing,” said Dorsey. “I don’t look at things in a materialistic way anymore because seeing extreme poverty in Africa has really changed my perspective.”

Dorsey, now a 21-year-old junior at Savannah State University studying Africana studies, said she hopes to go back to Africa through the Peace Corps once she graduates.

This was the life-altering experience filmmaker Tre Whitlow also wanted to have a life-changing experience. While living throughout East Africa for several years, he was inspired to become a filmmaker who would tell positive stories about the black experience in America, which he feels is contrary to what is generally put out by Hollywood.

“There is power in storytelling that culturally affirming, informative and educational,” he said.

In another segment, “Moving to the Beat” is a documentary that follows hip-hop group Rebel Soulz as they travel from Portland, Oregon to Freetown, Sierra Leone to collaborate with other artists and debunk stereotypes about Africa.

Co-director Abdul Fofanah moved to Portland from Sierra Leone in 1990, and had his own stereotypes about African Americans, especially around myths about laziness and crime. However, since being the States, he has learned through hip-hop and living in the United States that these are in fact myths and that the world is a much smaller place than he thought.

“African Americans and Africans have the same issues and problems going on, and my hope is that one day we can all learn, give and take from one another — one issue at a time,” he said.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Experience premieres this Sunday, November 15 at 7pm on WGBH 44.