TV Eye

The story of N

Richard Pryor in<i> The N Word</i>
Richard Pryor in The N Word

Is there any other word that causes such consternation? While "queer" has been embraced, defused, and reconstituted by gays and lesbians, the "N" word continues to cause so much fuss it inspired a book on the subject (Randall Kennedy's 2003 Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word). Now, it's the subject of a new documentary airing on Trio.

The documentary, simply titled The N-Word, launches My Trio, a week of specials by guest programmers. Chuck D, co-founder of Public Enemy, is the guest programmer for My Trio: Chuck D week, airing July 2-10.

While the title is simple, the subject matter is not. It is also not the first time the "troublesome word" has been at the center of a debate that engulfs language, identity, censorship, and commercialism. Filmmakers Helena Echegoyen and Todd Williams cover the aforementioned topics and more in a compact hour, featuring a wide range of notable scholars, actors, comedians, and hip-hop artists who discuss the word from its origins as a racial epithet to its contemporary use in popular culture. While The N-Word doesn't arrive at a pat conclusion, comedian Chris Rock comes closest to reaching the bottom line on the subject.

"This word, it's ... the only thing white people can't do. That's the only reason ... anybody writes about it. It's like white people can't believe there's a thing that exists [that] they can't do."


The N-Word premieres on Trio, Sunday, July 4, 8pm.

Other films in My Trio: Chuck D week include:

Nothing but a Man (1964): Stars Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln as a couple trying to live their lives as outside forces threaten to crush their love. Regarded by some as one of the best films about the African-American experience. Airs Friday, July 2, 8pm.

Cooley High (1975): Directed by Michael Schultz (Car Wash). Two high school friends enjoy a carefree life as the civil rights movement gains momentum and they are suddenly confronted with events from their past. Airs Saturday, July 3, noon.

A Rage in Harlem (1991): Stars Robin Givens and Forest Whitaker, directed by Bill Duke. In 1950s Harlem, mob moll Imabelle (Givens) is on the run from her mobster boyfriend and finds solace in the arms of Jackson (Whitaker). A Chuck D favorite. Airs Saturday, July 3, 2pm.

Panther (1995): Actor and director Mario Van Peebles mixes history with fiction to create a sharp examination of the Black Panthers and the era that created them. Airs Saturday, July 3, 8pm.

Biggie & Tupac (2002): The murders of hip-hop artists Biggie Smalls (Christopher Wallace) and Tupac Shakur and their lasting impact on the rap and hip-hop industry are detailed in this Nick Broomfield documentary. Airs Sunday, July 4, 9pm.

More Film-Festy Stuff on TV

The Sundance Channel offers an alternative to the summer blockbuster with nine "small" movies by emerging filmmakers in their Formula Free Films series. Launching the Sunday night series is the delightfully surprising Melvin Goes to Dinner (2003), directed by Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show) from a play adapted by Michael Blieden (who stars as Melvin). Four near strangers share dinner and plenty of wine, discovering that their casual conversation touches on some profound realities. A great excuse to stay in on the Fourth. Airs Sunday, July 4, at 7pm.

For a complete list of Formula Free Films, go to

The extraordinary Capturing the Friedmans premieres on HBO, along with a rare glimpse of Just a Clown, the film director Andrew Jarecki was filming when the Friedman's story pulled focus. Capturing the Friedmans airs July 8 at 8pm. Just a Clown airs July 9 at 6:30pm. Check local listings for additional air dates.

Continuing POV's special menu of Election Issue programming is Esteban Uyarra's documentary War Feels Like War. International journalists search for the real story of the Iraq War, as the military media work to control information. Airs July 6 at 9pm on PBS.

TV on DVD Releases

June 29: CSI: Miami: The Complete First Season, Paramount Home Video

July 6: Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season, Warner Home Video

July 20: Da Ali G Show: Da Compleet First Seazon, HBO Home Video; Boomtown: Season One, Artisan Entertainment; Millennium: The Complete First Season, Fox Home Entertainment

July 27: V: The Complete Series, Warner Home Video

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Esteban Uyarra, Andrew Jarecki, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Blieden, Trio, My Trio: Chuck D, A Rage in Harlem, The N-Word, Biggie & Tupac, Panther, Cooley High, Nothing but a Man

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