HBO's Role Evolves with 'Innocent'

Article excerpt

HBO already ranks at the top of the heap among cable channels in terms of viewership and critical attention. Now it has seen fit to spin off its own gold-label channel, HBO Signature, to highlight award-winning original programs and noteworthy theatrical films.

The latest offering on this self-styled prestige channel is a new documentary about young African-Americans in the American legal system, "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" (Sunday, Oct. 17, 7:45-9 p.m.). It underlines dramatic statistics about the incarceration rate of young blacks. For example, "One third of all African- American males between the ages of 16 and 35 are currently under criminal-justice supervision. In the District of Columbia, the [rate] is 1 of 2."

The show details the efforts of a pair of dedicated men to stem the tide of young blacks heading for a dead end in the criminal- justice system. Identifying education and employment as the twin tools in this struggle, James Forman Jr., a public defender in Washington, D.C., co-founded a school in the inner city along with former attorney David Domenici in 1997.

"The notion that we've done away with segregation is meaningless to someone who lives in a poor, all-black neighborhood and goes to a poor, all-black school," said Mr. Forman in an interview about the program. Forman, whose father was a 1960s activist who stood beside President Lyndon Johnson when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law, said his job is to translate the legacy of civil rights into action for the disenfranchised of today.

The Maya Angelou Public Charter School opened with 20 students with the express purpose of educating young African-Americans about the legal system as they work toward a high school diploma.

The program chronicles the challenges encountered by these two surprisingly realistic, yet idealistic, lawyers to reach young, African-Americans whose experiences differ radically from their own.

The show pulls no punches in assessing the difficulties they face - 13 of the 20 students drop out by year's end, including Bobby, one of the three students who are the focus of the program. …

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