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‘The Story of Us’ hopes to discover our common humanity

Omo Valley, Ethiopia – Morgan Freeman looks off into the distance as Ethiopian villagers line up behind him during the Ethiopian Peace Ceremony in Omo Valley, Ethiopia.(National Geographic/Maria Bohe)

‘The Story of Us’ hopes to discover our common humanity

Episode 3, “The Power of Love,” is moving. In truth, almost all the episodes have their “moments” that engage the heart. But this one looks at a young barber in the U.K. who cuts the hair of the homeless on the streets of London, and a former Romanian orphan adopted by an American couple at the age of 11 but who ran away at 16. But love overcomes all.

One of the most interesting is Hina, also in the U.K. She married after university but it did not last. She visited her grandmother in Pakistan and engaged willingly in an arranged marriage that 15 years later appears to be healthy and loving.

The most culturally mystifying segment is a look at the primitive (by Western standards) Hamar tribe in Ethiopia where women agree to be whipped (and deeply scarred) to show their love for their fellow tribesmen when they come of age.

Three more episodes follow into November for which I did not receive a screener but the program guide instead. Episode 4, “Us and Them,” starts with Freeman interviewing Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. It moves on to Panama, Bosnia and Maryland. Here, Freeman interviews Daryl Davis, an African-American blues musician who has been reaching out and befriending members of the KKK for years.

Next is “The Power of Us” with former President Bill Clinton; lobbyist Jack Abramoff; Henry Kyemba, a former member of Idi Amin’s regime; Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter; and Oleg and Dimitri, who were forced out of Russia because they are gay.

The conclusion of the series is “The Rebel Spirit,” where Freeman investigates and interviews people who want to make the world a better place. These include Patrisse Cullors, a founder of Black Lives Matter; John Kiriakou, who exposed the U.S. government’s use of torture following 9/11; Mabrouka Khedir, a Tunisian journalist whose work helped overthrow the government; and Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia.

“The Story of Us” is a documentary series with a purpose: It wants to inspire understanding between people and evoke peacemaking as a result. How this is to be done is left up to us, but with lots of ideas.

In some ways, I found this series more challenging than “The Story of God” because the stories are so deeply human and force me to look at my own attitudes and behaviors in relation to others. Freeman’s voice is just as hypnotic as ever as he flies from here to there and muses in his private jet. I think a look at environmental practices in the future might be in order.

I am especially looking forward to Episode 5 and how the co-founder of Twitter thinks the social media platform can be a force for good.

Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.

The Story of Us” airs on the National Geographic channel on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern, beginning Oct. 11.

This story appeared in the print issue of National Catholic Reporter

 

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