Specials on PBS, Cable Animate Black History

Article excerpt

From documentaries to discussions to dramas, TV programs in February are saluting Black History Month - but you have to know where to look.

The commercial networks have other things on their minds - like the fact that February is also sweeps month, when the ratings help determine how much can be charged for commercials. Keep an eye out, though, on network news programs like CBS's wee-hours Up to the Minute, airing Monday through Friday 2-6 a.m., which plans to carry special reports and features relating to the occasion. On Fox, spot announcements and mini-features mark Black History Month, and the 28th NAACP Image Awards airs Feb. 27, 8-10 p.m. Hosted by Arsenio Hall and Patti LaBelle, the event honors positive portrayals of African-Americans in media.

Cable and public TV are where the action is. PBS, for instance, has an array of documentary and performance programs like Conjure Women (Feb. 13, 10-11:30 p.m.), exploring the art and outlook of four notable African-American artists. On Black America: Facing the Millennium (PBS, Feb. 25, 10-11 p.m.), three prominent African-Americans critique black America from the perspectives of history, culture, and the economy. On cable, the choices are rich and varied. The centerpiece of Showtime's well-stocked black-history schedule is an original film starring the distinguished and award-laden black actor Sidney Poitier, and Michael Caine, in the title roles respectively of Mandela and De Klerk (Feb. 16, 8-10 p.m.). This historical drama deals with the final years of Nelson Mandela's imprisonment and his later inauguration as president of South Africa. Shot entirely in that country, the production combines dramatization and news clips in a heavily researched look behind the scenes at the negotiations leading up to the creation of the new South Africa. Showtime's lineup also includes other fine African-American actors in theatrical films now getting their cable premieres. One of these is a cinematic Othello (Feb. 16, 10:05 p.m-12:08 a.m.) with Laurence Fishburne in the title role of Shakespeare's tragic black hero. And a collection of shorter films by promising American directors is offered in Black Filmmaker's Showcase, airing each evening at 7:30 p. …