The Bottom Line
- Gates is a well-known scholar and makes a good narrator for the series.
- There is a great deal of information about interesting things like Haitian Vodu and Dominican music.
- It's designed for people with no idea about the subject: you don't need to be an expert to watch.
- It's very well researched: the history and information are rock-solid.
- It's a little superficial: 500 years of history of two nations does not fit well into one hour.
- Haiti seems to get a little more attention than the Dominican Republic.
- The episode can be viewed for free online: see link below.
- It is part one of a four-part series which examines the history of Africans and their descendants in different nations.
- Visit the PBS website for interviews, timelines, photos and more relating to the series.
Guide Review - Black in Latin America: Haiti and the Dominican Republic - an Island Divided
PBS' groundbreaking four-part documentary "Black in Latin America" kicked off on April 19, 2011, with the first episode: "Haiti and the Dominican Republic - an Island Divided." In this episode, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes a a look at the island of Hispaniola, divided into the nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Hispaniola is a great place to start the series, as the conflicting attitudes of the Dominicans and Haitians concerning their African ancestry is something that will be a recurring theme throughout the series. The people of both nations share a largely African heritage (more so for Haitians than for Dominicans) but their attitudes concerning this past are very different. While Dominicans tend to stress their "whiteness" - to the point of statues of mulatto founding fathers with white features - Haitians tend to embrace their African heritage with great pride.
The documentary follows Gates from Santo Domingo to the Dominican countryside and then to devastated Port-au-Prince, Cap Haitien and other parts of Haiti. The narration switches deftly between history, interviews with Haitians and Dominicans and discussions with a series of experts. Along the way, history is used to illuminate modern notions of race so that a clear picture emerges: for example, Dominicans tend to downplay their "blackness" because of a series of struggles against Haiti, including a War of Independence in 1844 and a nationalistic conflict in the 1930's and 1940's stirred up by Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic - an Island Divided is a well-made, fascinating documentary which runs about one hour. It is a non-judgmental documentary: it does not imply that the people of Haiti are right to embrace their African heritage and that the people of the Dominican Republic are wrong to prefer their Spanish ancestry. Rather, it simply explains why both cultures do what they do.
This episode can be viewed for free at pbs.org.