Going back to such ancient classics as "The Plow That Broke the Plains" and "Harvest of Shame," the best documentaries have been those that engage the heart as well as the brain. Two new entries in CNN's ongoing "Black in America" project manage precisely that feat, reporting in words and pictures of equal expressiveness on the current state of African American life in the United States.
A viewer is likely to come away with memories not of statistics but of images -- the real-life anecdotes and vignettes that supplement numbers with faces and experiences. In Part 1, airing tonight, among the most poignant stories is that of a 60-year-old woman, whom we first meet apologizing for her tears as she languishes in a Harlem hospital bed, correspondent Soledad O'Brien at her side.
Later, after the woman is released from the hospital and back in the poor neighborhood she calls home, we follow her as she embarks on a visit to the supermarket -- the nearest one being 20 blocks away at 110th and Broadway. For the woman, O'Brien says, that means an hour's trip via public transportation just to buy a tomato. It's no way to live, but she's living it.